by Dax-Devlon Ross
Dax reads from from his novel, Make Me Believe
I just finished watching Coach K’s Record Climb, an ESPN film celebrating Duke men’s basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski’s road to becoming the winningest coach in college basketball history. It was wonderful tribute to a great coach whose humanity and personal integrity are as much a part of his legacy and appeal as are his 900+ victories. Though I’ve never met him and was never good enough to play for him, Coach K and his remarkably static jet black helmet have been an integral part of my winters as far back as I can recall. I am and will always be ambivalent about Duke basketball, but, in the same way I can distinguish between Kobe the human being and Kobe the player, I’ve always been able to appreciate Coach K. Read the rest of this entry »
In part 1 I had some fun at Michael Jordan’s expense. He can afford it. This time around I actually want to discuss his position as a head strong NBA owner and consider some possible rationales for his stance.
The New York Times quotes a statement Jordan once made to Abe Polin suggesting the late Wizards owner sell the team if he can’t make a profit. The statement is deployed to underscore Jordan’s hypocrisy now that he’s the owner boo-hooing about profit. A more appropriate quote would have been Jordan’s Hall of Fame remarks about Chicago Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf,
He said organizations win championships. I said, ‘I didn’t see organizations playing with the flu in Utah. I didn’t see it playing with a bad ankle.’
Granted, I think organizations put together teams, but at the end of the day, the team’s got to go out and play. I think the players win the championship, and the organization has something to do with it, don’t get me wrong. But don’t try to put the organization above the players.
In the interest of full disclosure, I’m not one of those who consider MJ a sell out or a hypocrite. Calling him names like that is too simple and easy. He’s an opportunist. He’s with whichever team he’s playing on at the moment. He’s always been that way. I’d even argue that’s what makes him special. A sell out shifts with the wind. As a player and now as an owner, “Air” is proving he is the wind.
There’s also a familiar element of that relentless competitor at play in the new Michael Jordan that, I think, contextualizes his behavior. We loved him as a player not only because he was great at what he did in the All-Star game or even in the playoffs but because on cold Tuesday nights in mid February when the Bulls already had a playoff spot virtually locked up and he could have coasted through a game against Milwaukee or Washington, “Air” delivered. He played every game hard. He wanted to win every time he stepped on the court. Losing got under his skin. Losers pissed him off. That’s his mentality. And that mentality didn’t disappear just because the cartilage in his knees did. I don’t think I’m too far off in saying the current labor negotiations are another opportunity — an increasingly rare one at that — for the Michael Jordan of old to flex his alpha male, take no prisoners muscles against the youngins. Is MJ’s ability to live the life of luxury he’s grown accustomed to at stake? Hardly. Does that make the fight any less meaningful? Of course not.
In all likelihood MJ looks at many of the players in the NBA and genuinely thinks he can still beat them. Fairly or not, he looks out on the court at guys who would not have had a job in his NBA (because expansion has watered down the league), who can’t perform basic basketball functions, who take nights off, who only play hard in a contract season, who walk into millions of dollars that they haven’t earned, and he thinks, “Why should I split 50-50 with you?” He can make a legitimate argument that his generation built the league into what it is today, yet most of his contemporaries never made the kind of money a slightly above average player makes today. One of those slightly above average guys is Charlotte’s Tyrus Thomas. The owner of modest career averages in the 8 points and 5 rebounds per game ballpark, Thomas will make $35,000,000 over the next four seasons, roughly $10,000,000 more than MJ made his first nine seasons combined. I see his argument. I get it. And even though its not fair to compare himself to other, less gifted players, he’s entitled to do as much. After all, he played most of his career for what would be considered peanuts today.
What will be interesting is how NBA stars currently signed to MJ’s Jordan brand will remember this moment. The brand currently sponsors Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade Chris Paul, Ray Allen, salary cap poster child Joe Johnson and some 14 others of lesser stature. Where exactly the hard-line owner, former player and brand boss intersect is itself an interesting question. How does he separate them all? Do the players on his Jordan roster draw a distinction? How do they all fit together? And will winning as an owner cost him as a brand boss?
Reports that the Charlotte Bobcats owner is leading the charge against the NBA Players Union have convinced me that since nailing this game-winning, career-ending and sixth NBA title-securing shot, Michael Jordan has been on a decade-long mission to dismantle his legacy beyond repair. Yes, the man we once called “Air” is actively running his name and fame into the ground, sabotaging his own success, weaving a tragic-comic tale of his post-Chicago Bulls career that, at this rate, will soon equal the triumph of his playing days.
Project Demolition officially kicked off on June 27, 2001 with the selection of Kwame Brown who, a decade later and still short of 30, is already widely considered the worst number one draft pick in the history of the NBA. It was a decisive first move, one that, in retrospect, set a bold course for the next ten years.
Pretty soon it wasn’t enough that he’d taken a front office job with a team that hadn’t sniffed the playoffs in four years and tasted playoff victory in a decade and a half. No. The next phase of the project required a major act of self sabotage. Hence the comeback. Even as a lifelong Washington fan, watching him don a Wizard uniform was painful. Imagine Denzel Washington took a role in a sitcom on the WB. Imagine George Clooney starred in a Skinamax flick. Imagine President Obama’s next job was president of University of Phoenix. These are all bad thoughts that should never become reality. And thankfully they won’t. But Jordan was a man of a mission.
After failing to lead the Wizards to the post season in his two seasons, Jordan’s knees gave out for good and he called it quits, though not before delivering a string of notably putrid performances, including a memorable 2 point outing against the Lakers and a 6 pointer against the Pacers. The performances resulted in a stock downgrade that sank him from hands-down all-time greatest to merely greatest guard or greatest of his generation. It was at this time that MJ also began sporting the awful string of patchy mustaches. Despite his best efforts at metaphoric self-immolation, though, Wizards attendance skyrocketed.
Unfortunately after sullying his on-court career with the Wizards stint (one punctuated by rabid criticism of his teammates and a tragic inability to pass the mantle let alone the ball), MJ was publicly booted out of the Washington organization by the late Abe Polin, a man known by Wizards fans as both hazardously loyal and generous (he alone is responsible for overpaying Gilbert Arenas by $100,000,000). To his dismay, the sympathy points he gained by the public humiliation nearly offset the nightmarish two seasons.
Luckily, Jordan was able to hitch his wagon to the Charlotte Bobcats and pick up where he’d left off with Kwame Brown. As President of Basketball Operation his first order of business was selecting Adam Morrison with the number of 3 pick in the 2006 draft. Like his predecessor, Morrison is widely considered a top five worst draft pick of the last ten years.
(Lest I sound petty and mean spirited I wish only to point out that this wasn’t just a bad pick because he turned out badly. It was a bad pick because anyone who watched any college basketball knew Adam Morrison peaked in college.)
However, since Jordan could only take partial credit for Morrison’s bustage (Morrison showed flashes of promise, including a30 point game in his rookie season before hurting his knee, losing his starting job and eventually his uniform), MJ set about finding new ground to break in his quest. He found it in an unlikely place: his annual summer basketball camp for rich guys. In this 2008 video (one I believe to have been leaked by Jordan himself in an effort to hasten his demise), CEO John Rogers beats the ex-GOAT in a one-on-one match with a series of crafty moves. See for yourself.
A year later a Jordan delivered the most entertaining Hall of Fame Speech of all time. It was called controversial. It was called petty. It was called tacky. I call it brilliant. Simply brilliant. What better stage to stomp on one’s legacy?
Never one to rest on his accomplishments, MJ proceeded to appear in a series of Hanes commercials the purpose of which I’m nearly certain wasn’t to promote underwear but his new mustache:
Six months later Jordan became the owner of the Charlotte Bobcats. His new position gave him unfettered access to court side seats. He smartly used the opportunity to make various bold fashion forward statements — particularly his single-handed revival of the mock turtleneck, leather pants and weathered jeans looks — that have been surprisingly effective in furthering his mission to destroy every remnant of his once untouchable iconography.
A lot’s been written of late about attractiveness and its benefits.
In “Ugly? You May Have a Cause,” author Daniel Hamermesh suggests offering legal protections for the less attractive among us.
In a paper entitled “Are Good-Looking People More Employable,” researchers Bradley Ruffle and Ze’ev Shtudiner report that attractive men who sent their photograph to employers along with their CV were nearly twice as likely to receive call backs than their less attractive counterparts. Meanwhile attractive women in the study experienced fewer callbacks, which could be attributed to the deep-rooted animosity, distrust or fear of those hiring.
In “Up the Career Ladder, Lipstick in Hand,” Catherine Saint Louis argues that wearing some makeup “increases people’s perceptions of a woman’s likability, her competence and (provided she does not overdo it) her trustworthiness, according to a new study, which also confirmed what is obvious: that cosmetics boost a woman’s attractiveness.”
An argument can be made that we already know that society treats better-looking people, well, better, and that all of the new research is really just redundant and wasteful, especially since it’s not going to change much. Which is to say even if we did away with racism, sexism and class distinctions, attractive people would still receive residual, unquantifiable benefits.
But in light of the Occupy Movement’s seemingly insatiable appetite for issues, is there room for a campaign against beauty preference? Would those feel they’ve been unjustly treated because of their looks find a voice in the Occupation? Given the statistical information below, would that voice be given a platform at the General Assembly?
You may think I’m being cynical. I’m not. Being attractive makes a difference. A big difference. And if the idea is to address injustice in all of its forms and especially as it pertains to wealth distribution and employment, then it would seem that a movement with revolutionary pretensions would find space to tackle something as obvious as beauty, right?