“Like Mike.. if I could be like Mike.”
We’re all familiar with the famous Gatorade jingle made for their marquee sports figure, Michael Jeffery Jordan and as a kid growing up in the 90s, this song became the anthem for every kid in America who even thought about dribbling a basketball. Every time His Airness’ feet left the hardwood as he ascended towards the basket with a divine aura, it left all of us watching breathless. We can even replay the moments that to us were more than magic.. the 1988 NBA Slam Dunk Contest where Jordan gave us the iconic free throw line dunk or hand switching layup against the Lakers in the 1991 NBA Finals, Jordan gave us moments to last us a lifetime.
We hear the stories of legend and we watch clip after clip on YouTube, recite quote after quote, stand in line for hours or even days and wait for the latest sneaker to be released, hoping to attach ourselves to the lore of Michael Jordan. Even beyond the court, from his line of sneakers growing into its own division at Nike to the iconic film Space Jam to now being owner of the Charlotte Hornets, Michael Jordan has been a larger than life character and his legacy has been cemented in NBA History as one of the best to ever touch a basketball.
We can’t help but look to Jordan as the icon that he is with his shadow still looming over the NBA and that’s where my problem lies. With every sport, there is a character than transcends being bigger than the sport. Whether it’s Gretzky in Hockey, Barry Sanders in Football or Ali in Boxing, we all have seen the greatness of these elite individuals affect the generations that follow them in their footsteps but my issue with Basketball is while every other sport holds their legends in highest regard, they also know that their time has passed and a new legend must emerge. Basketball doesn’t get that concept. We as fans and media members still get caught up on chasing the ghost of Michael Jeffery Jordan.
Whether it’s continuously revisiting Jordan going 6 for 6 in Finals appearances or comparing his statline to the next great player coming up or even giving a special prospect the title of “The next Jordan”, the game of basketball has gone from focusing on progressing the sport to simply chasing the ghost of Michael Jordan. We were chasing the ghost long before Jordan stepped away from the game for good. From Harold Miner to Anfernee Hardaway to Grant Hill to Jerry Stackhouse to Vince Carter to Kobe Bryant and depending on who you talk to, this list can go on and on. Why is that? Why must we compare every great player to Michael solely? Why do we not hear of someone being compared to Tiny Archibald, George Gervin, David Thompson, Reggie Miller, Dominique Wilkins? Even then, why compare and proclaim a special talent as “the next __________”. Are we robbing ourselves of seeing greatness push the game forward because we in some twisted way can’t seem to truly let go of the past? What happens if we never let go of the ghost of Dr. J and make room for Jordan and Wilkins? What if we never let go of the ghost of George Gervin and make room for Kevin Durant? What if we never let go of the ghost of Pete Maravich and make room for Jason Williams? Are we as fans so blind to upholding our legends that we miss out on watching the next level of greatness playing out before us?
I suggest that the ghost of Michael Jordan must die and the game will be all the better for it. We can’t continue to compare every talent to the legacy of Jordan. By doing that, we tarnish his greatness by not letting it rest in its proper place. We essentially hit the game winner against Byron Russell only to come back to the Wizards over and over and over again. Jordan’s moment has been etched in history and it shall remain there. How about we finally let his ghost rest in peace and look forward to the next legend who could be playing before our very eyes?