Hey, did you know The Hangover 2 comes out today?
Yeah, me neither.
Back for week three of The Bleacher Retort—aka, the cartoon we’re going to be putting up via B/R Swagger every Friday, so tell your friends/please come back—and this go-round features a Hangover-themed entry.
Because until we get readership up for the comic, we’re taking on sponsors. We’ve gone the way of 7-11, which means that at the bottom of this page there’s a link to buy a $3.00 roll of toilet paper.
So it had to be The Hangover, and it was subsequently suggested to me that the accompanying content should deal with “sports hangovers,” something for which I never really found a concrete definition but took to describe the guys who have milked their respective careers to the point of calcium overdose, and proven completely incapable of stepping gracefully out of the spotlight.
Those are the guys I was initially going to write about. And I was going to write about them negatively.
Pictured: A 39-year-old mercenary-Shaq (who may not yet retire), a 41-year-old mercenary-Favre (who is throwing balls again, albeit baseballs), and a 46-year-old rudderless Bonds (who has to this day not turned in his retirement papers). All still defiant, all increasingly devoid of the self-consciousness to notice and/or care about substantial public backlash regarding the perception of their respective legacies.
Many more were spared the ignominy of poster inclusion solely by virtue of space/lack thereof.
And it was actually because of that (that I could only fit three of many) I came to something of a surprising realization—one that ultimately prevented me from turning this article into a scathing critique.
Realization: How many guys run into this thing exactly, this type of hanging on? Half of all professional athletes? Most?
Let's narrow it down to this:
Michael Jordan did it.
As much as any of these guys, Michael Jordan held on too long, and that lead me to an interesting conclusion toward which I will now attempt to circuitously guide you.
I was a huge Jordan fan growing up—my life revolved around the crafting of MJ’s legacy—and somehow, miraculously, everything worked out perfectly for him as it pertains to basketball. Perfectly. I mean, the narrative of this guy’s career, the sequence with which challenges unfolded and were subsequently vanquished…they are now the template with which we measure everyone else. I’d bet we compare LeBron James’ career to Michael Jordan’s career more often then we compare LeBron James to Michael Jordan—a distinction that is often unmentioned.
So with that in mind: The odds that an athlete in our lifetimes (or in our children’s lifetimes even) gets the opportunity to win like he did, win how he did (think of the number of signature Jordan moments you can name, then do the same for Kobe Bryant), and then punctuate the whole deal with one of the greatest performances of all-time while hitting, literally, a championship winning shot are infinitesimally small.
Small = the chance that some guy will even get the opportunity.
How small then, is the chance that that same guy gets each chance and then takes full advantage of every one?
That’s what I was thinking about when Michael Jordan returned to the Wizards.
That this is a crappy epilogue, perhaps akin to J.R.R. Tolkien including a water-skiing anecdote at the end of Lord of the Rings because he thought he’d feel worse if he left it out.
Which is what Jordan said. That he’d feel worse if he left it out. That he’d feel worse not knowing.
“It’s an itch that still needs to be scratched,” he said. “I want to make sure the scratch doesn’t bother me for the rest of my life.”
(I’m assuming he meant “itch.” Then again, maybe he was prognosticating.)
Okay, so here was my subsequent conclusion as it pertains to the Sports Hangover—and it interprets Jordan's motivations as a bit antithetical to what he'd have you believe them to be.
MJ said he had to come back, that his own life would be worse off if he didn’t. Sounds totally reasonable. I’m just not sure it’s 100% true.
I'm not sure it was that thought out.
To me, Jordan's second return comes from the same place Shaq goes to put down Dwight Howard every other week of the season, where Favre finds the urge to keep throwing balls in front of cameras. It's the same place that Bonds finds his defiance, and why he'll continue to deny his transgressions.
The underlying impetus ("impetus" may not even be the right word because "impetus" implies intent) behind all of this stuff is exactly the same.
It's pride, or some bizarro form of it.
None of the aforementioned could/can help it. It’s literally who they are, so there's rarely much of a choice involved.
For these guys, I’m thinking clinging to the past comes from the same place that made them grasp the present so forcefully years prior.
In sports (and I guess in anything really), the same thing that makes someone great at one thing—as it pertains to the gentlemen listed above: pride, entitlement, inability to process criticism—can also lead to their downfall in another (or relative downfall).
So now here’s the point...
The nugget to take with you:
Go see Hangover 2.
2. Nico Colaleo. Nico colored this cartoon (quite awesomely), and has a pretty amazing portfolio up right here.