Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player ever and arguably the finest athlete this country has ever produced.
He is also the dullest superstar in history who registers as a complete zero of a human being off the basketball court.
I realize that criticizing 'Air Jordan' is tantamount to high treason, but my long-held dislike for No. 23 (or, if you prefer, No. 45) was re-ignited by comments he recently issued declaring that the 1992 Gold-medal winning 'Dream Team' which dazzled in Barcelona could run circles around the 2012 London club of LeBron James and Kobe Bryant.
I agreed completely with Jordan on this assertion – but this most recent media appearance reminded me of how boring and uninspiringhe really is. And he has always been disappointingly awkward, uncharismatic and uninteresting.
Immortal athletes should not be like this.
The greatest players in each of the major U.S. sports are usually heroic or tragic or charismatic of colorful characters – these qualities seem to go with the territory of athletic excellence.
Babe Ruth, the Yankee slugger and all-round greatest baseball player ever, led a wildly eventful and dramatic life – he was rough-hewn, charming, funny, slovenly, a boozer, a glutton, childlike, completely guileless and downright lovable. Shaped by a tragic Dickensian childhood in Baltimore, Ruth made sure to enjoy life once he attained wealth – and the world will never forget him.
Joe DiMaggio was, by almost all accounts, a cold and unfriendly man, but he was also regal and dignified – virtually ‘American royalty’ whose excellence on the diamond inspired millions of people, from Ernest Hemingway to Paul Simon. (He was also married to Marilyn Monroe, which guarantees him everlasting fame).
Ty Cobb was a racist, a paranoid, a violent psychotic, and perhaps even a killer – but he was also an intellectual who wandered through museums and studiously studied the stock market. An utterly intriguing and complex character that movies and books have been devoted to.
In the NBA, the man that Jordan supplanted as basketball's finest player, Wilt Chamberlain was a hugely fascinating character who defied expectations and convention in all aspects of his life. Not only did Wilt put up surreal statistics on the court, but he was highly intelligent, outspoken, controversial, contrarian and endlessly fascinating. For example, he was a conservative Republican who boldly embraced Richard Nixon (a stance that alienated many African-Americans). He disdained marriage as a dated bourgeois convention and notoriously claimed to have slept with 20,000 women (nearly as many points he scored in the NBA).
Chamberlain's bitter rival, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was an unpleasant fellow who refused to cater to the fans. Rather, he courageously played by his own rules and had interests far beyond hoops – politics, Islam, history, among many others.
Having met Abdul-Jabbar once at a New York book signing, I can attest that he is extremely intelligent, articulate, funny, charming and passionate about the world around him. A true Renaissance man.
Jim Brown, perhaps the greatest player the NFL has ever seen, was a one-man wrecking crew – a violent misogynist (he allegedly threw a woman off a balcony), a civil rights activist, a movie star and a mentor for gang-bangers. Brown is a thug and as compelling a figure as one could ever want in a sports legend.
Then there is the incomparable Muhammad Ali, who is usually paired up with Jordan when one speaks of the most dominant athletes of the post-war era. Although I dislike Ali and believe he was duped by the Nation of Islam, I conceded that he possessed a bottomless reservoir of charm, humor and charisma. He was at one time the most famous person on the planet – and handled his immense fame with aplomb.
Well, he's not really a 'good guy', nor is he a 'bad guy.' Instead, he's a... nothing, an empty suit, a robot.
He can’t really speak too well, everything he utters sounds like a badly memorized press release. He’s stiff and unnatural -- his ‘handlers’ clearly do not want to expose his real personality to the public.
I’m not asking Jordan to be an unblemished good citizen like Cal Ripken Jr. or Peyton Manning, nor am I wishing for him to become a disgraced villain like Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens, nor a pathetic exhibitionist like his former Bulls teammate Dennis Rodman.
Rather, I would prefer for MJ to show some... personality, something, anything.
Yes, Michael has endured a number of 'controversies' over his career, but they have either been covered up or muted by the media.
For example, when Harvey Gantt ran against Jesse Helms for the North Carolina Senate seat in the early 1990s, Jordan refused to endorse the black Democrat Gantt by infamously stating that “Republicans buy Nike shoes, too” (or something of that nature). I never believed that Jordan himself could have come up with such a clever line (one of his many press flaks probably provided that gem).
Yet, he was seemingly forgiven for that gaffe and led to no further revelations about his political views (if he has any).
Of a more serious nature, questions arose in the mid-1990s when Jordan mysteriously”retired” from the NBA to pursue his “dream” of playing baseball. Conspiracy theorists suggest that NBA Commissioner David Stern pressured Jordan to “go away for a while” since he had evidence of the point guard’s massive addiction to gambling.
This provided an opening to the ‘real Jordan’ – but it was never fully revealed. Did he have a serious gambling problem? Did he owe money to the wrong people? Was his father’s murder somehow related to his love of playing the ponies?
Some entity, the Bulls, the NBA, or perhaps Nike (or all three) conspired to block too much information from being released to the public (lest it destroy Jordan’s billion-dollar global business empire).
Can you imagine what the fallout would have been if Jordan received the Pete Rose-treatment? That is, a lifetime ban from the game for gambling on sporting events, perhaps even NBA games? Now, that would have made Jordan a fascinating and tragic figure.
Instead, we only have bits and pieces of data that don’t add up to anything compelling.
All we really know now is that Jordan loves money, cigars and golf. Beyond that… nothing.
The few times his handlers allow him to speak at length in public he makes a fool of himself. Consider his acceptance speech at the Basketball Hall of Fame – he rambled endlessly and meandered through a number of irrelevant topics, and managed to criticize his former Bulls GM and even his high school coach. It was one of the most graceless and tiresome Hall of Fame induction speeches I ever heard. Perhaps this is the ‘real Jordan’? A bitter and insecure man who is not very bright?
For those fans who claim that Jordan is a ‘brilliant businessman’ I must point out to you that he has teams of high-powered attorneys, accountants and other professionals who handle his contracts and business ventures – he is simply a ‘front’ (a famous ‘face’) for scores of very smart people on his payroll.
He has also failed as a ‘basketball executive’ with the Washington Wizards and now part-owner of the Charlotte Bobcats (although it’s not really clear if he actually made any of the real decisions that affect those franchises).
For those fans who suggest that Jordan owes the public nothing after his stellar career, I wholeheartedly agree. But I add that as a global icon and superstar, his personality to meet even the minimum standard befitting a legend.
Without a basketball in his palms, he’s a nobody. His famous 'Air Jordan' shoes even have more personality.