Sports Nut

How Michael Jordan Ruined the League


When I got up Tuesday at the disorienting hour of 5:30 a.m. to prepare for a grueling exodus from the island of Menorca, I realized that the time difference might allow me to watch the end of Game 4 of the Suns-Spurs series. Alas, the programmers in charge of my British-spawned satellite couldn’t squeeze a live NBA game into the 17 available sports channels. Apparently, reruns of semipro cricket and the World Championship of Darts are that compelling.

Thus was dashed my dream of reporting on an NBA basketball game as watched through vision fogged by Spanish eye-boogers. Instead, I retired to the chair in front of my laptop, where I learned that live Internet coverage of a basketball game—while ideologically solid—falls far short of its potential. I was left to wonder why no one has upped the ante of the medium. We can build video games that take into account user input, but no one can put together a good animated simulator for live games? Tell me you wouldn’t watch an NBA game shown in the format of the Nintendo nonclassic Double Dribble. Or better yet, in the style of NBA Jam.

I was able to glean that your Phoenix Suns won the contest in question, evening the series at 2-2. Strangely, I consistently take the side of your favorite team, even though those in charge of that same team fired me not once, but twice—the second time after I did what I thought to be a bang-up job of ass-slapping, warmup-wearing, and white-guy-being during our run to the 2005 Western Conference Finals.

But I’m hooked. I like the Suns because they are the only hope of professional basketball. I find it strange that David Stern is deified. Sure, he’s made fans of the Chinese. But he’s alienated most of America. I doubt that the average 45-year-old male from my hometown in Kansas could name more than three NBA teams. But that same test subject could probably name all 30 NFL squads, the capacities of their stadiums, and tell you whether or not their front office had interviewed a sufficient number of minority coaching candidates.

The NFL can trace some of its success to loyalty to particular teams. That league made the correct decision when it tied its marketing campaigns to teams and not individuals. Most people agree that the NBA came into its own during the Magic Johnson-Larry Bird era. The NBA screwed up, however, in thinking that Bird and Magic were the league’s saviors; in fact, the NBA blossomed because of the rivalry of the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics.

But then, along came this dude named Michael Jordan. He transcended the concept of team and had a unique combination of ability, class, and aloofness that inspired kids everywhere to tug at their middle-class parents’ Dockers until they shelled out $120 for the latest version of the Air Jordan. No dummies, those in charge of the NBA noted how much easier it was to market one man. When Jordan was gone, they tried with others—Penny Hardaway, Shawn Kemp, Allen Iverson, Shaquille O’Neal. But it’s never been the same.

We’re left with a league that doesn’t know if it wants to be an extension of the And1 Tour or the second-coming of professional wrestling. Which makes me sad. I’m biased, since I’ve spent nearly half of my life dedicated to the sport, but I think basketball is the purest form of athletic expression. Football is too scripted, baseball’s too boring, and soccer … well, soccer can best be compared to caviar. No one really knows why anyone likes it, but they’re all afraid to say that it looks like poop and tastes like fish eggs.

As of now, the Phoenix Suns play the most poetic form of basketball in existence. For that, I salute them. (That was perilously close to a lyric from an AC/DC song.) Even though they kicked me to the curb like a 19-year-old gymnast, I have to keep hoping they win. Nothing less than the future of basketball is in their hands.

P.S. You’re spot-on regarding the taste of Coors beer. That Pete Coors fellow ought to be taken behind one of those snowy mountains and pistol-whipped, first for looking like a complete and utter douche, and second for producing a beverage that tastes like the sludge at the bottom of a grain elevator.

P.P.S. At last count, we’re up to one each of the terms asshat, douche, booger, and poop. Are we allowed to do this?