Michael Jordan: "If Someone Interpreted Me as a Tyrant, I'm Pretty Sure They're Appreciative Now"The fact that Michael Jordan was a dominating and at times overbearing presence on his teams has been well documented, even if the images of him punching teammate Steve Kerr or being confronted by teammate Bill Cartwright never altered fans' adoration of him. In the October 2007 issue of GQ, Jordan tells interviewer Larry Platt that there was a method behind his conduct: "That was leadership. I was the only one there from 1984. I was there when there were 6000 people in the stands. So I took pride in making sure every guy understood what it took to get us to that point, and by no means am I going to allow you to come in and change what we'd begun--the transformation of a city that's never had a championship. I used my criticism, my aggressive language, my aggressive behavior, to make you conform. Some people, like Sam Smith (author of The Jordan Rules), looked at this in a whole different frame of mind. At first I was offended. Then I realized, people don't understand our journey. I bet if you ask anyone now on those teams, they have a greater appreciation for what we achieved as opposed to the method we went by to achieve what we achieved." Jordan tells Platt that it was essential for him to maintain that stance even after the Bulls became perennial champions, saying that if he took a day off then that would have a negative trickle down effect. That is why when I contrast Shaquille O'Neal's work ethic/focus during his career with Jordan's, Russell's and Duncan's that I find O'Neal lacking. O'Neal has always believed that he can take the regular season lightly and then turn it on in the playoffs--but even if that is true for him, it sets a terrible example for other players on the team who are much less likely to be able to just turn up their performance at the drop of a hat (and O'Neal has not always been able to do so, either, which is why he has won fewer championships than he probably could have won).
Jordan credits Tex Winter's Triangle Offense for keeping everybody involved by defining each player's roles but he adds, "The Triangle won't work without a Michael Jordan or a Kobe Bryant." Speaking of Bryant, Jordan recognizes a kindred spirit in the Lakers' star--to a point. Jordan acknowledges that after drafting Kwame Brown and other players as a Wizards executive he learned the hard way that not every player is willing to make "the sacrifices I made" or shares "the tunnel vision I had." Jordan says, "I had to realize that their passion may not be to be a better basketball player. It may be to maximize the financial aspect of it, to get their own shoe line...No one's going to play the game the way you played it and you just have to accept that. If I do see that dedication, I recognize it in an instant. I'd say Kobe Bryant would have some of those characteristics but a lot of the things Kobe does I would never have done." Pressed to elaborate about that last sentence, Jordan refuses: "I ain't going to go further on that one." It is not surprising that Bryant finds it as frustrating to play with Brown as Jordan did during his Wizards comeback.
Perhaps the most bizarre portion of the interview concerns Jordan's passion for racing motorcycles, one of the diversions into which he is now pouring his legendary competitive drive. Jordan not only owns a motorcycle racing team but he talks about personally riding "crotch rockets" and "popping wheelies" on the streets of Chicago in the wee morning hours. Has he not heard of Ben Roethlisberger, Kellen Winslow and former Bull Jay Williams, each of whom sustained serious injuries while riding motorcycles? As the cliche goes, in the battle between riders and concrete, concrete is undefeated.
Jordan explains his notorious unwillingness during his playing career to take public political stances by saying, "My whole life had always been about being the best basketball player I could be. I had absolute tunnel vision--everything was channeled toward that. So I thought it was kind of unfair that people asked me to do something that I wasn't accustomed to doing just because of my profession." He adds that while he felt comfortable helping kids from the Special Olympics or Make-a-Wish that he did not feel comfortable making overt statements about politics or social issues because, "I'd only be setting myself up for someone to scrutinize my opinions, which were limited, because I never channeled much energy into it." It could be argued that prominent public figures like Jordan should speak out about political issues--but Jordan raises a good point: if a public figure is so completely consumed by his job that he is not really well informed about larger issues then it makes no sense and does no good for him to say anything. Not everyone is cut out to be Muhammad Ali or Jim Brown. As more than a few people have noted, it might not be a good idea to increase voter turnout because a lot of the people who aren't voting are not very well informed; the same reasoning could be applied about athletes/entertainers who choose to not step to the forefront regarding political issues: maybe they realize that they have nothing intelligent to say on these subjects because they have not had the time to really study them.
posted by David Friedman @ 7:33 PM