By Daniel Paiz
After watching episode five of “The Last Dance” one thing that revealed itself to me again is that I need to knock over the pedestal. This isn’t just about being such a big sports fan or music fan or whatever. It’s more so about building on an idea I’ve had for some time about people in general. These last two episodes inspired these blogging fingers.
Why idolizing anyone is a recipe for disappointment
It’s not so much that Michael Jordan didn’t vocally support Democratic Senate nominee Harvey Gantt in 1990. The now infamous “Republicans buy sneakers too” quote from Jordan might’ve been said in jest, but it reflected exactly why incumbent Helms won re-election: fear of change. That’s somewhat ironic for an at the time unproven rising star like Jordan who was doing just that to the face of the league.
In Jordan’s defense, it was blown up a bit bigger than it should’ve been. As MJ also stated in episode five:
“I never thought of myself as an activist… I thought of myself as a basketball player.”
Jordan at the time was a half a dozen years into his NBA career, just beginning to understand how to win titles. His political persona was likely the 120th thing on his mind between what kind of gum he should chew and what kind of putter he should buy next. But, that’s kind of the problem for us sports fans outside of that superstar bubble: we project our expectations and hopes of who a person is only to be disappointed by their humanity. While plenty of us still want to “Be Like Mike!”, Jordan does breathe and eat and do what the rest of us do.
Senator Helms won that 1990 Senate election because he stoked uncertainty and fear, not because Jordan didn’t endorse his opponent. Helms is one of many senators past or present who did things that shouldn’t surprise any of us when it comes to career politicians, but that’s another article for another day. Let’s get back to the point here.
Knock it over as fast as you’d rip off a Band-Aid
Celebrity somehow permits one to somehow gain an infallible identity from one’s supporters. Jordan can do no wrong to diehard Bulls fans and basketball fans the world over. The same can be said for Barack Obama, Donald Trump, Elvis Presley and Prince. These pedestals are mounted on immovable bases that if anyone even touches, rattles that diehard’s worldview momentarily. That’s the problem, too often fans (I’m guilty myself) will not accept fair critiques.
I’m a big Michael Jordan fan. But episode five of “The Last Dance” reminded me that while Jordan is absolutely one of the best ever, but he isn’t the next in line poster athlete of civic engagement like Muhammad Ali, like Jackie Robinson, like Curtis Flood (Flood did stuff more so for baseball than for everyone, but he fits this mold better than Jordan). He never intended to do so. That’s alright too, because not everyone is built for that.
Self-reflection is everything
Episode six pretty much confirmed what I expected Jordan to discuss next: success and fame have quite a cost. Jordan absolutely enjoys the game and is unbelievably competitive about everything (who bets $20 on tossing a coin against the wall and seeing who can get it the closest?). But when the competitive nature leads you to characters that can derail everything you’ve worked for thus far, it might be time for a change.
Fortunately for Jordan, nothing too bad happened due to his gambling habits. This again reminds us of Jordan’s imperfections. Not because gambling is somehow morally wrong or bad. But because the stress relief it provided for number 23 could’ve easily become eclipsed by the people relieving said stress with him. There was a reason MJ sought to decompress:
“If I had the chance to do it all over again, I would never want to be considered a role model. It’s like a game that’s stacked against me. You know, there’s no way I can win.”
Being like Mike was (is?) tumultuous and full of wearing a mask you can’t take off. While fame, fortune, and success are what most people might seek, it’s clearly something someone who has achieved it wishes to shed. Jordan loves the game of basketball, but the longer he’s in the NBA, the more the off-the-court portion lessens that desire.
That’s why you can’t place Michael Jordan or any other person on a pedestal. They themselves will want to knock it over due to how unyielding the spotlight truly is. The shredding of one’s humanity publicly in exchange for notoriety isn’t worth it, especially if you aren’t pursuing something bigger than you.