A family friend, Skip, once played golf with Michael Jordan. He relayed this to me—I was in my teens at the time—in such a way that conveyed cognizance of the event's potential cool, but also with the same clinical language one might employ to describe a round with fellow regular business guys. Crucially, the thrust of the story revolved around one such regular business guy beating His Airness. MJ, apparently, was furious. And, being ultra-competitive, he demanded a rematch.
"But I’ll be late to Seder," replied the victor. Jordan conceded to a one-hole playoff with a caveat: Should he lose, he'd have to join the winner's family in the celebration of Passover. To put it mildly, a putter defends Jordan better than Bryon Russell.
In humanizing Jordan, the tale effectively revealed that he was nothing more than a competitive douchebag. The silver lining (he actually made good on the bet) didn't sway my opinion. A lone concession doesn't absolve Jordan from forcibly waking coach Chuck Daly to avenge a 1-stroke loss during the '92 Olympics or punching a teammate (Steve Kerr) in the face.
I, myself, am not immune to Jordan's magic. On March 10, 1998, the flare of camera flash provided a near blinding accompaniment to the announcers call: "From North Carolina, standing 6' 6", Michael Jordan." The scene, undoubtedly, had been repeated every night of the season, but that was on a night—an evening in which the Chicago Bulls played Alonzo Mourning's Miami Heat—when I was actually in the United Center, covered in goosebumps. Jordan scored 37, shooting roughly 57% from the field over 39 minutes. Two days earlier, he had torched the Knicks for 42 at MSG, while wearing an original pair of Air Jordan 1s. I watched that game from the star's eponymous restaurant in Chicago, eating coconut chicken tenders and barely able to restrain my awe. The dude was basically toying with Ewing's boys in a pair of ancient sneakers. And shoes, of course, are part and parcel of the Jordan aura. While in Denver for the 2005 All Star Game, the doors of the Brown Palace Hotel elevator opened upon my arrival to reveal Michael Jordan. He stood alone. I stood slack-jawed, muttered hello and immediately walked to Niketown and bought a pair of Air Jordan 20 on the spot.
Once the on-court glory fades, all we're left with is a very tall narcissist.
Michael, however, isn't the only guy to have influenced me into wear Air Jordans. Allen Iverson's turn in the XI made me covet Tinker Hatfield's masterpiece. I also bought the original Team Jordans after watching Louis Bullock, Robbie Reid and Robert Traylor lead Michigan to victory in the inaugural Big Ten Tournament (that same week MJ scored 42 at MSG and 37 against the Heat).
At the same time, Jordan never propelled me to buy Hanes undershirts or wear cologne. I hated Space Jam (much like I despise all children's films) and, most of all, found those of my peers who professed admiration for MJ owners of faulty personality. For them, being a corporate shill was acceptable. Moreover, they were willfully buying into a construct.
Jordan's basketball greatness is the definition of undeniable. However, most of us can't play for shit and lessons from his skill set are simply not transferable. The way I can actually "Be like Mike" is as a philandering asshole. Dreams are great for 8-year-olds. Adults must face reality. Sometimes, in bleak moments corroded by drugs and alcohol, a grown man might ask himself, "How the fuck did I get here?" Singing along to "I Believe I Can Fly" won't help for shit.
I've met adults who say they are inspired by Jordan. These are men who define greatness and success singularly. They are content to uphold the status quo, and they are fine with the idea that cigar smoking, gambling and driving a Lamborghini is the pinnacle of life. They are, essentially, unthinking mooks.
Beneath the party, Jordan is famously petty. He will hold a grudge (how juvenile!) and act upon it with staggering cruelty. In one instance, Jordan was even exposed trying to cheat in a casual game of cards against an elderly woman. Exactly the type of guy you aspire to be, correct? Exactly the way you'd like your future children to behave, right? Once the on-court glory fades, all we're left with is a very tall narcissist.
In world history, there exists a laundry list of figures possessing inspiring character. Jordan is amongst those only if one has an infantile approach to life.