On Friday, September 11th, Michael Jordan was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Enshrinement Class of 2009, the first year of his eligibility. There was never a doubt that the honor would come as soon as he was eligible. At least probably not since 1989, the year he nailed “the shot” in Cleveland. Certainly, not since he led the Chicago Bulls to their first NBA Championship over Magic Johnson’s Los Angeles Lakers in 1991. And most definitely not since he led the Chicago Bulls through the remainder of that first set of three championships (1991-1993); the second set of three championships (1996-1998) was just candles on the already iced cake.
While Jordan has been a shoo-in for all these years, his career with the Washington Wizards (2001-2003) prolonged the inevitable. Those Wizards years, though, and the five-year Hall of Fame waiting period since, have done little to cloud or weaken the many memories that I have of watching him dominate the game of basketball with the Bulls. All those years did was merely put the memories aside, just like my old Jordan t-shirt worked its way to the bottom of my chest of drawers (see the photo to the right). At first, the shirt went months without being worn. Then years. Yet, continually, it is dragged around from old home to new home and old city to new city. Always, though, it stays. Memories stick with you even more assuredly than a beat-up old shirt. They remain vivid.
I grew up in Illinois, both in suburban Chicago and, a bit further south, in central Illinois. While Michael Jordan was appreciated by basketball people everywhere, Chicagoans and people throughout Illinois–where the term “March Madness” was originally coined–were crazy over him and the Bulls. Jordan memories for many of us are just like those intense moments imprinted in minds where the person never forgets where they were when the event happened (e.g. JFK’s assassination, Princess Diana’s death, 9/11, etc.).
While I read through the news reports and watched video of the ceremony, many of those fond memories came rushing back in vivid detail: the dunk contest championship against Dominique Wilkins in Chicago, “the shot,” his switch-handed lay up against L.A. in the first championship series, his 3-point barrage in Game 1 against Portland, the eloquent yet simple two-worded statement that meant so much, and, of course, the final moments in his Bulls uniform. The list of memories could go on and on. And they all lead us to consider what it was that made Jordan so special: his relentlessly competitive spirit. Yes, he too was arguably among the best dunkers of his time. But while his rim-rattling slams were special, his sheer will to win games–especially in the clutch moment–is what made him the best player of his time and perhaps the best of all time. His incredible moves, insatiable will to win, and clutch play–along with his marketability a la Nike, Gatorade, Hanes, etc.–helped to create a sort of mythical player, a hero or an icon represented by a simple logo.
Despite memories of heroism, the iconic Jordan is, of course, human. That’s what was great about his Hall of Fame induction. We were able to see the hero speak bluntly about himself: cape removed, alone at the podium, and in the flesh. Yet, despite the fact that he delivered a very Jordan-like speech–poised and with great confidence, he was criticized by some for the speeches’ display of “arrogance” and “petty”-ness (including ESPN columnist Jon Greenberg and Yahoo Sports columnist Adrian Wojnarowski). In essence, these critics pointed to the portion where he went to great lengths in order to describe the motivating forces that drove him to compete so ferociously. That is, he explained in timeless detail how he was so motivated by words or actions of others–former teammates, coaches, opponents, media critics and doubters. The critics thought that this was a vendetta against his “enemies” disguised as a speech.
I think these critics missed his point. Jordan wasn’t “disparaging” these people or playing “alpha male.” He was explaining himself. Explaining the motivation that psychologically drove him. Explaining what enabled him, the human, to act so unhuman-like on the court. In essence, actually, he was paying homage to those he mentioned by telling them that they motivated him. And that’s what I loved about his speech. He let us all know that he isn’t the hero he’s made out to be, rather he’s just a super-motivated man. His speech, while not a lesson on humility like some of his induction classmates, was a lesson on motivation: everyone experiences instances where we are challenged or doubted; during those times, we should channel our feelings properly into motivation, which will encourage us to (1) work harder, (2) compete (or, put another way, accept responsibility), and (3) succeed. Now that’s a Jordan memory I’ll continue to keep, just like that old t-shirt.
And a Little More on the Hall of Fame Inductions
Leading up to the big day, Jordan had a sit-down conversation with ESPN’s Michael Wilbon. The interview provides great insight as Jordan discusses the Hall induction (he’s “not ready to be put out to pasture yet”), talks about his life today (nothing in life comes close to giving him fulfillment or satisfaction that he gets from playing the game, though golf comes close), and reflects on his playing career. That reflection includes thoughts on his 1993 retirement (“I was lost in the midst of so much going around the game”), his explanation for why he can’t choose a favorite Jordan-moment, and memories of the 1992 Olympic “Dream Team.”
Other 2009 Hall of Fame inductees were long-time San Antonio Spurs great’ David Robinson, long-time Utah Jazz great’ John Stockton, Jazz Coach Jerry Sloan, and this year’s only female hoopster honoree, college coaching great C. Vivian Stringer. Below, I have compiled three successive videos of Jordan’s induction speech. (Or, for an excerpt of not only his, but all the inductees’ speeches, check out this ESPN video). Also, check out the collection of videos on ESPN.com called “Michael Jordan’s Top 23 Moments.” Each video moment is paired with a short description by a former player, coach, broadcaster, or journalist on why the moment stands out.
(1) “Michael at Hall Podium” taken from: http://www.nba.com/bulls/news/jordanhof_2009.html
(2) “Jordan T-Shirt” photo by author.
(3) “Michael-Jordan” taken from: http://www.posters57.com/images/Michael-Jordan.jpg.