Thoughts On MJ At 50 Interview

So I caught the first of 3 big interviews the NBA came up with in time for the All Star break, particularly the one with Ahmad Rashad and MJ. The other two were Ernie Johnson and Charles Barkley and finally Bill Simmons and Bill Russell.

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Sadly the goddam thing was destroyed by too many commercials, a situation that thoroughly confuses me considering this is supposed to be cable tv. As a result I would occasionally get distracted because I would do other things in between like cook lunch or god forbid, work.

I did get some bits in though so it’s best to write about them before I forget.

It’s great to see those old Bulls v. Pistons highlight reels again

Those were the days I was gulping down gallons of  NBA Kool – Aid, not necessarily because I was young and naive, but because what they were delivering was the real deal. The Bulls vs. Knicks and Bulls vs. Pistons series featured teams that really hated each other, with plays showing them trying to tear their heads off. MJ was right in referring to the fouls they were handing out as deserving a flagrant 2 if done today.

Today, players are more aware of the fact that they are trade – able pieces of meat as opposed to the forged brotherhoods back in the day, and I think that tells on the types of performances they give now. You just don’t pour your heart into something if you know it’s only worth as much as the money you’re earning. You give far more of yourself if you felt that you belonged to a family. If I remember right this is the reason Dennis Rodman wanted to off himself. When Coach Daly left the team and the Pistons dissolved he felt as the rug was pulled right out under him, and the family he felt belonged to – a rarity in his life – was suddenly gone.

Which honestly leaves me in awe as to the professionalism of current superstars of today. Guys like Kobe, Durant and LeBron  devote their lives to excellence but without the old fashioned tenets of fraternity which made teams special then, and in complete acknowledgement of the fact that the romantic notion of loyalty is just a myth. But that’s another matter deserving of another post.

Jeff Van Gundy Issue Finally Explained

MJ explained that JVG said in an interview Jordan was a ‘con man’ and would falsely befriend his Knicks players to soften them up so they wouldn’t play as hard against him. This inspite the fact Jordan was actually very good friends with Oakley and Ewing, and would hang out with them directly after what often were very physical games. Jordan, of course, interpreted this as an insult to his skills and used this, of course, as fuel for him to try and prove himself even more against the Knicks, which we all know by now he properly punished.

I first read about this issue in the book When Nothing Else Matters when MJ lost his cool when Van Gundy’s name was mentioned, and so now I know.

MJ Wasn’t Being His Normal Insecure Self – The truth is it’s hard for me to watch MJ after the books I’ve read about him and that speech he gave at the HOF revealed one of the most insecure and therefore difficult people I’ve ever seen. But in this interview with Ahmad, he wasn’t being his ‘normal’ self, and when I say normal I mean the enormously insecure guy who uses every perceived slight as motivation for him to try and one up everyone.

In truth a little insecurity is a good thing. It fires up your competitive juices and forces you to push yourself harder so while you occasionally fail you will eventually achieve. Saying all this makes it all sound so easy but everyone knows success takes  superhuman effort, and so any and all kinds of motivation is welcome even if its the type that makes you think you’re less than someone else.

MJ is to me the Gold Standard of using insecurity as a motivational tool. The NBA video archives are full of interviews of him expressing how someone said or did something that he felt was a personal affront and that therefore, he has set his sights on destroying the man, his team and reputation.

And the thing is, he would, and in a spectacular fashion because he had the necessary weaponry and people around him to do it. That made him the unique combination of being both a fantastically entertaining player worthy of calling G.O.A.T. – and a complete and utter bore.

Because really, how many times do you need to tell everyone you’re the best at what you do, and with everyone agreeing at that? You tell your friends – they agree. You tell your opponents – they agree. You tell your coach, your teammates, especially your fans – they all agree. And yet MJ had to rub it in everyone when he was already being inducted into the goddam hall of fame. You gotta wonder – who else do you need to convince bro? Yourself? Is there someone who skinned you so badly when you were a kid you spend your life wishing you could tell him too? I mean, at some point you gotta give it up.

“Practice Makes You Not Fear”

But despite all that MJ still fires off a gem like above (I’m paraphrasing). Ahmad reminds him of the Cleveland – Chicago game where he’s punching the air after ‘The Shot’.

MJ explains that when he was a kid he would be playing 5 on 5, race to 10 points and in between, his coach would switch him to the losing team. Sometimes the points would be 2-7 and he would then do what he can to win. He probably lost a lot but it’s not hard to imagine he would win some too, being such a fantastically gifted player. But you do it often enough and I imagine you start learning exactly what it takes to win despite being well behind.

To me, this is an example of a great coach AND a great student.

A great coach really shouldn’t do that if he didn’t think his players had it in him to win, especially with kids. You don’t set up a team to lose. It breaks morale and eventually breaks a person if it happens far too often. Instead, you challenge teams to not give up hope and try to find a way to win.

A great student should also see that the same way. It’s very easy to give up and think everyone is against you if your coach suddenly switches the scoreboard to make your winning team the losing one. You can either just raise your hands in the air as many people often do and ask God strike them down in His Heavenly Wisdom, or you can get right on the problem at hand.

Clearly MJ does that. He would fight and fight and keep on fighting. First you keep the other team from scoring, then you start scoring yourself, and before you know it if you do it often enough you start learning that there are certain weaknesses you can take advantage of, certain shots you can take which have the highest chances of going in, certain moves you can do that they cannot defend against.

In other words you practice to win, and this eradicates fear. And so when crunch time comes and your opponent is ahead by a point, say 100-99 like in the Cleveland series, he knew exactly what to do because he had done it a zillion times before in practice.

Conclusion

Overall the Rashad interview was a treat for an old timer like myself. It made me rethink MJ a bit as well as wax nostalgic about the old days when I was truly moved by the games I saw on TV. I learned a great deal what I know of life through basketball and MJ was one amongst a number who helped inspire me. He is incomparable. There is no one else that could be like him.

But if anything what basketball teaches is that the game is the source of important lessons and not necessarily the players. The players come and go and perform their roles, but it’s the game really that is important. The players are flawed and human, and while they shine on court they may not necessarily shine in life. Nowhere is this more evident than when I consider MJ. He is the greatest of all time. But he’s just a player after all.

To get the most out of the game it’s best to focus on the game.

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