Furor Over Jordan's Speech: A Game Even He Can't Win

Gerald FlemmingCorrespondent ISeptember 16, 2009

SPRINGFIELD, MA - SEPTEMBER 11: Michael Jordan is inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame during a ceremony on September 11, 2009 in Springfield, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.(Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Did you watch the now infamous speech? On which side of the fence have you positioned yourself? 

Is he the boorish, disrespectful egoist who couldn't be cool...or is he the guy who shoots from the hip and lets the chips fall where they may?

I've never seen a more startling reaction to a speech in my life (unless you're Kanye, and he deserved it).

Like the million or so hits suggest, I clicked the link just like you did and hunkered down to watch the greatest player of all time give me something: some reason he was capable of doing what he did, some little tidbit of his personal demons, or some story about what it was really like to be No. 23.

After having watched him play all of these years, I wanted him to deliver a speech that was equivalent to a raw and savage Jordan throwdown in a game.

And that's what he did.

He stared out into the face of the crowd and pulled out the friends and foes alike. He told them what he thought of them with humor and candor. He left the politically correct brand name that is Michael Jordan at home.

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He wasn't wearing the shoes or pushing the Nike swoosh. He let us into his head and his heart. He showed us the will and guile. He walked us through his mightiness and his pettiness.  

Have we forgotten?

What drove Jordan to greatness was that he wanted to completely beat you. He wanted you to walk off the court, go home and try to sleep, and when you closed your eyes, you saw him. Him dunking on you. Him breaking your ankles. Him taking the ball away from you when you thought you had a clear path to the basket.

The greatest athletes in the world die a little bit every time they lose. They don't shake it off. It haunts them because they're a little bit crazy. They endure workouts so rigorous that they verge on self-abuse. They garner at the very least a temporary hate for the other team, particularly for the guy on the other team who has been preparing just for them. 

Do you remember that game? That incredible, once in a lifetime game...

This is the guy who dropped 38 on Utah when he had a temperature of 102—when he hadn't slept or eaten anything solid in 36 hours. He walked out on the court and I thought, "We're f*cked; look at him."

His face was swollen, his eyes were listless, and the announcers couldn't stop talking about how much he'd end up playing.

Were you like me and the announcers? Did you have way too little faith?

In the first quarter he was stumbling around trying to get his bearings, and because of that Utah led 36-20. However, something happened to Jordan in the second quarter. His body language changed. He had the first step back and started schooling the Jazz Jordan style. He went off for 17, and when they went to the locker room, they were only down four points. 

After playing a ferocious three quarters, he retired to the bench. When he went to get up for the fourth quarter, he slipped and almost fell. Scottie Pippen picked him up and tried to put him back on the bench. Jordan pushed him and told him to get out of his way. He then went out and dropped 15 points to win the game. 

This was the single greatest thing I've seen on a basketball court and possibly in any sports arena. When he was stumbling off the court, a stunned reporter shoved a mic in his face and asked him how he was possibly capable of such a feat. 

And here's the rub: Michael said, "I wanted it more than anybody else out there."

That's the man. Right there in that moment. The same man we saw the night of the HOF induction ceremony. 

Many were expecting him to stand up there and give a pat speech where he graciously acknowledged this person and that person, nodded to his family and his mother, and thanked God and all of his many fans.

If you expected that or even wanted that...then you haven't really been watching.