This past weekend taught us once and for all that if we’re going to expect celebrities to be more than they are, we better be prepared to be disappointed. Kanye West, a man convinced he’s the voice of a generation, proved that Sunday night when he decided to embarrass Taylor Swift at the VMAs. Serena Williams proved it when she made a fool of herself at the U.S. Open, acting like the spoiled country club brat she was never supposed to be. And worst of all, there was Michael Jordan, the greatest basketball player in history, proving that’s all he’ll ever be.
On the surface, what Jordan did at his Hall of Fame induction doesn’t compare to Kanye humiliating a wide-eyed teenager in front of the world or Serena’s childish antics on her sport’s biggest stage. But then you have to remember that West and Williams don’t ever belong in the same sentence with Jordan. Kanye is a successful musician. Jordan is the Beatles. Serena is a world-class champion. Jordan is Sampras and Federer combined.
We expected the most from Jordan. We got the worst.
I couldn’t wait to watch MJ’s induction speech Friday night for one reason: Of all the great memories I had of him, the one thing I didn’t remember was his voice. By the time I became a big sports fan, Jordan had already turned his back on most of the media. He didn’t need ‘em. He had established a brand bigger than any newspaper, much less some reporter or columnist. So, like Babe Ruth did 70 years before, he hand-selected the people he was willing to talk to and they pledged their allegiance to him.
What we were left with was Jordan in cuts. 30 seconds here, some commercial there. But never any substance. His motto became, “never piss off someone who might write you a check,” something that has become commonplace in sports today.
That wasn’t the case in Springfield, where Jordan decided to deliver a resentful, bitter-sounding speech that would have left a lot of people embarrassed had it been someone else speaking. Instead, most in attendance, including Michael Wilbon of the Washington Post, summed it up in two words: “That’s Michael.”
Jordan uncensored took shots at the high school coach who didn’t pick him for varsity and the player who was selected over him. He blasted Jerry Krause and Bryon Russell and suggested that he still hasn’t gotten over Dean Smith not allowing him to be on the cover of Sports Illustrated his freshman year at North Carolina.
If that was Michael, we’ve all been duped.
If that rant was fueled by anything but a few too many drinks, then we should all be disappointed in the man we made our hero.
More than anything, it proved that basketball is all Jordan will ever be defined by. We remember Ruth for more. We remember Ali for more. But Jordan is the epitome of what William C. Rhoden calls the $40 Million Dollar Slave, though he made much more than that in his career. He was controlled by the people at Nike and Gatorade every step of the way, no matter how often it appeared otherwise.
On Friday night, he finally got the chance to send a message. And he did. Just not the one we were looking for.