His legacy is one of personified greatness. His name has become synonymous with being the best as it is not uncommon to use his it as a standard bearer of sorts. His game was beautiful, elegant and graceful and it inspired an entire generation of children all over America to "be like Mike."
Yes, Michael Jordan brought the NBA and basketball's popularity in general to new heights. His ability to soar to the basket and do things we'd never before seen captured the world's attention and helped make basketball more of a global sport than it had ever been. Unfortunately this came with a price.
Michael Jordan made scoring sexy. His reverse layups, slam dunks, and fadeaway shots were exciting to say the least. But as more and more of basketball's youth tried to emulate and imitate their favorite No. 23, we started to see that being like Mike was easier said than done. And as that basketball youth grew, so did the me mentality that Michael Jordan unintentionally created.
Suddenly, basketball became less about five guys playing with synergy and more about one guy trying to do it all himself. One on one play became the new style of the NBA and of youthful basketball in America and as a result, the quality of play suffered. The ball stopped moving, the fundamentals eroded, and the shot selection fell off the map.
Players were faster and more athletic than ever before, but they were more athletes than basketball players. All too often, player's only goal was to score, passing only when they had to. The end result was lower overall scores in the NBA and a poor product on the floor.
The league even changed the rules, to open things up for offenses, akin to what the NFL did to protect receivers and quarterbacks and increase scoring. While this succeeded in inflating the scores, it has only served as a crutch for unsound basketball. Rather than teach unselfish basketball, they've chosen to reward selfish basketball even more with cheap fouls and lousy defense.
If you watch basketball from yesteryear, the first thing you'd notice (aside from the embarrassingly short shorts) is the ball movement; the quality of shots; and how easily the overall scores reach over 100. This is not a result of each player being better than today's, but rather quite the opposite. It would be fair to say that overall, the players of yesteryear were less skilled with only some exceptions.
But it is because of this that they worked better as a team, with each player depending on the next, and no one player dominating the ball. Rather than each player trying to score on their own, the players passed the ball around and moved without the ball until they got the best possible shot. This is what basketball is all about.
Unfortunately, even some of today's best basketball players suffer from the "be like Mike" mentality. As unselfish as LeBron James can be, he has shown almost an inability to play without the ball. Rather than cut back door, or do something as simple as setting an off the ball screen, he does what most players of this generation do...nothing. Without the ball, nothing.
The most ironic part of the "be like Mike" effect is that Michael Jordan was one of the most fundamentally sound players in history. He was effective with and without the ball. He set screens. He passed with purpose more often than out of necessity. And his shots, though seemingly difficult at times, were almost always balanced and under control.
Somehow, these aspects of his game were lost in translation, overshadowed by the flashier parts of his game.
Michael Jordan's influence on basketball was greater than any other player in NBA history. My question is...was it necessarily a good thing? I'm not so sure.