There was Michael Jordan, Game 6 of the NBA Finals, top of the key, hand on Bryon Russell’s hip one second, rising up over him the next, time standing still as the ball floated through the air, another amazing moment in a career that seemed to provide nothing but amazing moments — you could build a mosaic from them.
I remember it vividly, because my first reaction, the very first thought to pop into my head was, “but, he pushed off.”
That was me, a 16-year-old kid, staring at a television, awed, watching the greatest player of my generation make the biggest shot in the biggest moment… and I was looking for the offensive foul.
It went on like that for much of Michael Jordan’s illustrious career. He would do things, amazing things, things only Jordan could do, and I would find a way to be angry about them. I mean, how many steps were they going to let him take? How are you supposed to play defense if they’re going to let him get away with that?!
In the few instances when Michael Jordan was a failure — his attempt to play professional baseball, his team’s early exit from the ’95 playoffs, his stint with the Washington Wizards — I was happiest.
That hate was so real, man.
It consumed me. I watched all of Jordan’s greatest plays, but I never truly appreciated any of them, not in the way others did. To me, they happened and then they were over. While everyone else was reliving the moment, trying to wrap their minds around what they had just witnessed, I was coming up with reasons to justify my disdain.
And it was exhausting, but it always felt like the right thing to do, like the world around me had gone mad and the only thing that could bring balance to the universe was my #WellActually point of view.
I don’t know when it changed, when I finally learned to appreciate Michael Jordan, but it was far too late. Maybe it was during the years when seemingly every up-and-coming superstar from Harold Miner to Grant Hill to Vince Carter was supposed to be the next MJ, but I finally began to understand Jordan’s greatness, that there was the distinct possibility that we’d never see someone like him again, and that, in a weird way, I had never really seen him at all.
That’s the path that led me to become a fan of LeBron James, more so than a fan of any particular team. I spent way too much time hating Michael Jordan. I missed far too many moments.
Sometimes I pull up the “Be Like Mike” Gatorade spot and let it play on repeat, over and over and over and over again. It brings me back to a time before I became jaded by his greatness, when I was a kid and MJ was a superhero with his own cartoon. It helps me forget that I was ever jaded at all. What it won’t do is help me recreate those moments, though, the ones I never saw, the ones I willfully dismissed.
Back-to-back-to-back-to-back NBA Finals. Two NBA Championships. Two Finals MVPs. The numbers aren’t exactly the same and both sides of the debate over greatness can certainly be argued, but LeBron James is this generation’s Michael Jordan. Whether you believe he’s better or not is immaterial.
It’s happening right now, right before your eyes. And if you want to miss out on what he’s doing, if you want to look for the negative, if #WellActually is your thing, then go right ahead.
I made that mistake once. I’ll never make it again.