The Breakfast Table

I Hate Michael Jordan

Dear Jodie,

Wonderful news on the Byzantine front! Last night they managed to defeat Norman invaders, marauding Pecheneg barbarians, and an army of Crusader knights. I’m beginning to think the Empire’s going to pull through, after all.

My favorite selection from today’s newspapers is a hilarious op-ed in the Wall Street Journal by Nicholas von Hoffman, who points out how the media have covered the retirement of Michael Jordan as if he were dead. (He doesn’t even note the latest Nike commercial, which silently displays childhood pictures of Jordan–a rip-off of the commercials that feature victims of drunk driving.) At last, a discordant note, after years in which the only kind of writing about Jordan that existed was slathering paeans to his brilliance.

I will go even further than von Hoffman and say that I hate Michael Jordan. Whenever I declare this in public, I am met with stammering disbelief, as if I had expressed my desire to rape nuns. But I have my reasons. First, he has helped to change the culture of sports from one emphasizing teamwork to one emphasizing individualism. The NBA has contributed to this by promoting superstars (“Come see Charles Barkley take on Hakeem Olajuwan!”), but Jordan buys into it, too. Once he referred to his teammates as his “supporting cast,” and in last year’s finals he yelled at a teammate for taking a shot in the clutch moments that he, Jordan, should have taken–after his teammate made the shot. The result is a generation of basketball players who don’t know or care how to play as a team.

Second, Jordan is the beneficiary of extremely favorable officiating. This, of course, is not really his fault, because it stems from the NBA’s superstar system. The problem is that Jordan has been so spoiled and pampered by his special treatment that he expects a trip to the foul line every time an opponent gets near him, and he whines if he doesn’t get it. Even Jordan’s fans–that is, virtually everybody–generally acknowledge his favored treatment, but they shrug it off as the just reward due to a superstar of his magnitude. But if defenders were permitted to play Jordan the way they play everybody else, Jordan wouldn’t be quite as a big a star as he is. (After all, the talent differential between top NBA players is miniscule, and a few inches of extra leeway here and there can have enormous effects). Anyway, why should we accept favoritism in sports? The prevailing ethic in American sports used to be teamwork, fair play, and rooting for the underdog. Michael Jordan has inverted this ethic.

Sorry to go on for so long on a topic that has little appeal to a woman of your height–er, cultural affinities. At least I managed to compress many years of angry diatribes into two paragraphs. So, how is the President’s defense going?