Do I Still Wanna Be Like Mike?

Kelly Scaletta@@KellyScalettaFeatured ColumnistMarch 1, 2013

7 Jun 1998:  Michael Jordan #23 of the Chicago Bulls walking to the bench duing a time out called during the NBA Finals game 3 against the Utah Jazz at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois.  The Bulls defeated the Jazz 96-54. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

If Michael Jordan was the greatest player in NBA history (and he was), then the greatest campaign ad had to be the "Like Mike" commercial which sang what we all felt, "Sometimes I dream, that he is me. You’ve got to see that's how I dream to be.”

Do we still want to be like Mike though?

He was so popular he made it cool to be bald.

When people compare Kobe Bryant or LeBron James to Jordan, they only look at his on-court impact. Jordan’s off court impact though was something unique in the history of sports. He wasn’t just a ball player, he was a superhero. He was the man everyone wanted to be.

He was the most watchable player the league had ever seen. The things he did were utterly unique. The way he “moved” and “grooved” were otherworldly. It had an impact not only on the game, but on the way the whole world watched the game, quite literally.

In Jordan’s rookie season the NBA received $23 million in broadcast rights form CBS and another $10 million in broadcast rights from TBS. One year after he retired, the NBA was receiving $400 million a year from NBC and another $210 million from TNT/TBS. That’s a total TV revenue increase of $877 million in one career.

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It went beyond that though. The products Jordan endorsed, Nike, Gatorade, Chevrolet and so on made money hand over fist off of him.

Fortune Magazine calculated his economic impact on the game as upwards of $10 billion. He’s still hauling in $60 million a year in endorsement money, a full 15 years after he played (we don’t count the Wizards years).

While I can’t find it online (it being from the early 90s and all), I have a distinct recollection of him being named as the most recognizable figure in the world, ahead of the Pope, Queen Elizabeth and Mickey Mouse.

And if that’s not enough for you, he rescued the planet from an alien invasion

How could we not all want to be, ‘like Mike?”

But Jordan, for all his basketball skills, wasn’t the person that we’d all want to be.

His gambling problems were the first thing to surface. Richard Esquinas, after being shortchanged on an alleged $1.25 million in gambling winnings from Jordan playing golf, wrote a book, Michael and Me: Our Gambling Addiction on the subject. Jordan settled down to $300,000.

In 1992, Jordan confessed to Chicago Tribune writer, Bob Greene, of his two and half hour sit-down with NBA Commissioner, David Stern and the other NBA bigwigs,  

Was I gambling with goons who had bad reputations? Yeah, I was. Should I not gamble with goons anymore? Yeah, I shouldn't gamble with goons. But as they were talking to me, I was wondering: Are you telling me that I can't play cards with friends for a little money anymore? Is that what you're saying? Are you saying that if you hear that I've been in a card game with friends, you`re going to kick me out of the NBA

That’s hardly remorseful. Some even speculate that his gambling issues might have been the real reason behind his first retirement.

Jordan’s problems don’t end there. He also had, what was at the time, the most expensive celebrity divorce in history. It cost him $168 million. He paid hush-money to his lover, Karla Knafel, to keep silent about their affair. It’s hard to believe those two things aren’t connected.

Now he's been hit with another paternity lawsuit, though it remains to be seen if there's any validity to it 

His post-playing career has seen its share of failures.

He utterly failed as part owner and President of Basketball Operations for the Washington Wizards. He drafted one of the biggest overall No. 1 flops in the history of the game, Kwame Brown. Tyson Chandler and Pau Gasol were the next two picks taken

He gave a scathing Hall of Fame speech, critical of Jerry Reinsdorf, Isiah Thomas and Jeff Van Gundy, among others. Many viewed the speech as “petty,” being more concerned with settling old scores than accepting the honor being bestowed on him.

As the owner of the Bobcats, he reversed what appeared to be his position as a player, taking a hardline stance for a hard salary cap.

Jordan is not perfect. As great a player as Jordan is, his character flaws are many.

That being said, there are some things that were amazingly generous as well, such as his donating $100,000 of his salary as a Washington Wizard to the children of the victims of 9/11.

Jordan is fascinating in that he’s a perfect example of what the problem has become with the way we view the American athlete. We demand them to be more than what they are, then we despise them for being what they aren’t. If they win, we forgive them for not being what they never weren’t.

Michael Jordan, Ray Lewis, Tiger Woods, LeBron James, Michael Vick, and so on. Even Lance Armstrong fits to a degree, though he has not, and may never, enter into the “forgiveness” stage. But we’ve even forgiven convicted rapist, Mike Tyson, so why not?

Stars are as flawed as we are, and sometimes idolizing them blinds us to that fact.

Maybe we shouldn’t try being “like” anyone. Sure, there are things we can learn from anyone who reaches such a pinnacle of success. There’s nothing that says we have to take all or nothing with players. Appreciate what made them great.

If all of America had a work-ethic like Mike, we’d have colonized Mars by now instead of needing Jordan to save us from it. In that way, I want to be like Mike.

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