It seems like a shift of movement and glimmering light twirls in the corner of my perception, only to disappear when I turn to face it.
It’s beautiful, but it still haunts me, something magnificent stuck on infinite replay (Jordan over Ehlo, Jordan over Ehlo, Jordan over Ehlo, Jordan over Ehlo) until it’s all I see, until it’s something I come to dread, until I wake up screaming in the middle of the night.
There’s a ghost in the room, and it’s ruining professional basketball.
Michael Jordan, and the resultant media and administrative hoopla that surround him, has changed the NBA game for the worse, minimizing great team play, and finding value only in the squad that fields the most explosive scorer, the most complete player, the dude with all the endorsement deals, and to hell with the team that actually wins the title.
Though it can be argued much of this started back when Magic and Bird where locked in their epic duals throughout the 1980s, it was always the Celtics and the Lakers back then. There was talk of McHale and Worthy, Kareem and the Chief, Ainge and Cooper, Scott and D.J.
Hell, even Kurt Rambis got his due.
The Detroit Pistons squad that held the reigns briefly before his Airness took over was widely reviled, though respected as a great team nonetheless, and even casual fans of the game can recall Bill Laimbeer, Isiah Thomas, Joe Dumars, Dennis Rodman, and a host of other colorful characters that made that team so good (the “microwave,” the “walrus”, the “spider”).
Bench players had nicknames back then! What’s more, they got media coverage and fan appreciation and their just due for the team’s success.
All that changed when Michael took over. Though by no fault of his own, and mostly due to the emergence of the mass marketing campaigns of a fledgling shoe company poised to transform the sporting world, we became obsessed with “superstars.”
We became hostile to the notion that any team composed without one, was worthy of a title and we therefore ignored them when they won.
For years, the best team in basketball was led by “the best player ever” and history has largely forgotten what a great player Scottie Pippen was (possibly the most unappreciated player in the annuls of the game), Dennis Rodman is still remembered as a Piston, Horace Grant, Bill Cartwright, and John Paxton are not even in most people’s vocabulary.
Remember how unilaterally derided Pippen was for not winning titles without Jordan? Guess what, Jordan couldn’t have won them without Pippen, and it was widely considered in his prime that Scottie was among the five best players in the league. I think that’s a pretty just assessment.
Somehow we stopped being fans of teams and started being fans of players. Somehow, we shoveled down the advertising campaigns, the NBA slogans, started to believe that team was spelled solely with an “I,” and started to forgive the premaddonna’s their outbursts, caring only about their performance on the court.
Somehow nicknames were no longer colorful, but rather vain attempts at proclaiming the supernatural: “the King,” “the Truth,” “the Answer.”
It is not surprising then that when the Spurs won four titles nobody cared. When the Pistons rose up and quelled the mighty Lakers, most people begrudged them their title and presumption at unseating the dynasty.
It wasn’t surprising at all, given that the league had spent absolutely no resources promoting some of its other teams and players, and that endorsement deals were limited to the player of the moment.
And so we come to the present, and if you believe the hype, there’s only two players worth a damn in the entire NBA. You’ve got LeBron, and you’ve got Kobe. You’ve got puppets and vitamin water and shoes, and shoe-wearing puppets hawking Vitamin Water.
And God oh mighty, one of them ain’t in the title game, defeated by a better team rising up to deny the King his birthright. Sounds uniquely American doesn’t it? Not anymore.
The Magic are going to give the Lakers fits too, as they present multiple matchup problems rather than just one, and may very well win it all. Will anyone care if they do?
Or will we continue to chase Michael Jordan around the room, sick of the hype, but unable to look away.