Michael Jordan’s retirement, the last one at least, came during the period when I had lost interest in the NBA. The comeback to play for the Wizards was, in my mind, more of a stunt than a true return to the game.
He didn’t come back as the old MJ; he came back bulky and slow, with a steady dose of fadeaway jumpers. Michael Jordan came back. But the …from North Carolina—at Guard—6’6”—Michael Jordan...never played again.
That disappointed me for a while. I still had a passing interest in the league with the likes of Allen Iverson and the Kobe-Shaq dominance. But it was only passing. I didn’t schedule my events around the playoff games; I didn’t watch SportsCenter hoping for another unbelievable display of NBA athleticism to cross the screen. My finger stayed on the pulse of the league, but the pulse was weak. I kept waiting for the next heart of the league, the next MJ, to appear.
But I finally gave up. I realized there will never be another MJ. And that’s acceptable, because in this case, one person is not better than a team. I don’t see Dwight Howard’s unbelievable displays of thunderous grace for a man his size and immediately remember MJ’s free-throw line take-off.
Those two dunks, and humans, are nothing alike. They are their own entities and in their own rights should be admired.
I recognize now the emergence of new talent. Not entrance, but emergence: their abilities have finally reached a level where we cannot help but take notice. Chris Paul’s ridiculous ability to take over the flow of a game, Amare Stoudemire’s explosive cuts and dunks, and Deron Williams’ powerful slashes are some examples.
When MJ was around, he was the focus. Now the focus has spread. Spotlights hang over many cities, instead of just Chicago. I don’t see every kid with the same Michael Jordan poster on his wall. Some have Kevin Garnett. Others have Kobe.
Granted, fans still had other favorite players in the Jordan era. People still had rivalries. But people still hovered around Jordan, even in those rivalries. People’s favorite player was Ewing: one of Jordan’s rivals, or Barkley: one of Jordan’s rivals, or Isaiah: one of Jordan’s rivals. He was like the father of a hillbilly’s family—everybody was related to him.
Now my favorite players exist on their own. They might not have extreme rivalries—yet—but their skills entertain us so much, the added dimension of a rivalry isn’t even needed. Even so, the rivalries are gradually building.
Plenty of series in this year’s playoffs have gone at least six games, and the teams involved are developing some pretty intense relationships. Maybe next year, or perhaps by the end of this one, true rivalries will have emerged. We already have Pierce and James. Chris Paul and Tony Parker could end up being one for the ages depending on the intensity of their meetings over the next few years. Shaq could definitely grow a hatred for San Antonio; my guess is he already possesses some.
All these different league aspects continue pulling me towards the television in a deep hope, and belief, another jaw-dropping memorable play will undoubtedly unfold—and those plays are coming from all different directions.
I’ll never forget Jordan, but I’ll put him in the past. I’m crowning some new Kings (not just one, LeBron). After all, there are 450 players in the league, why should I spend all my time focusing on just one?