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A Requiem Fit For A "King"

Alright, we’re a month away from the start of the NBA season and tonight in Springfield, Mass, the Hall will open its doors to the Class of 2009. Of them all, none shine brighter or are even remotely greater than Michael Jordan. The Man, The Myth, The Reason So Many Aren’t Quite Considered “Legends”…he who spent 14 seasons turning an afterthought of a franchise into the team of the 1990s.

I’m not entirely sure how long this will go, but here are a few interesting factoids about Jordan which make him the best of my (from 1980-present) era…yet not exactly the Platinum Standard which is reserved for Bill Russell, the Game’s Ultimate Winner.

- Michael Jordan in his career, is a perfect 6-0 in the NBA Finals. After the 1991 Eastern Conference Finals when the Bulls finally vanquished the Bad Boys, it’s interesting to point out that his Bulls never again lost in the Eastern Conference Finals. Come to think of it, the only time when his season ended prior to mid-June was in 1995, when the upstart Magic ousted them in the 2nd round. (It should be pointed out that a year later, Chicago punched Orlando’s ticket rather unceremoniously in the Eastern Conference Finals en route to Jordan’s 4th title.)
- Michael Jordan in his postseason career, never once played in a Finals Game 7. It remains a mystery to me how the Sonics and Jazz extended those Bulls to 6 games, they were clearly inferior to the Bulls, but I digress.
- He was a five time NBA MVP, although in the 90s, it’s questionable how he didn’t win it every year he played sans 1994 and 1995. Oh and it should be pointed out that on at least two occasions he encountered the league MVP in the Finals, the result as you expect wasn’t pretty.
Oh, in 1993 when he played the Suns (who were probably the best team that challenged Jordan in his career IMHO), he averaged a Finals record 41 PPG. FORTY-ONE people.

Now here’s where the story or at least a major chunk of it is up to interpretation. He retires at his peak, due to gambling (I remember this vividly, the Knicks had a 2-0 series lead coming back to NY and the Post lambasted Jordan for a gambling trip in Atlantic City. Really BAD MOVE by the Post, as the Knicks were roadkill from that point on.) and various other things. Personally, I think he was bored. People forget at this point, the West was what the Eastern Conference is now. Chocked full of “good” teams, but nobody that could legitimately challenge the powers in the Eastern Conference. Portland in 1992 were aging, much like the Lakers in 1991. Basically they were the gray haired vets, looking for one last hurrah only it never came. The Suns in 1993 were the most formidable team to challenge the Bulls and by most accounts, when Jordan retired SHOULD HAVE won the title in 1994. Yet it’s obvious that their loss to Jordan took the heart and soul out of Phoenix, they never recovered as a franchise and Barkley was traded a few seasons later to Houston, who ended up emerging from the pack. Oh and I’m all but certain that the 1997 NBA Finals which ended up being Utah & Chicago (YAWN) should’ve been Houston/Chicago. Still, I think Jordan was bored. Greatness has to be challenged. Joe Montana was constantly challenged by the Giants in the mid to late 80s in the NFC, the Yanks were…never mind. Nobody seriously challenged them during the peak of their run in the 90s (by the by, I’m presently reading The Yankee Years by Joe Torre and I will review that book once I’m finished with it). Still, every great team must have a threat otherwise, it’s just moot. While in the East, the Knicks and Pacers were probably Jordan’s most formidable challengers during the latter part of his career…there was no legitimate threat from the West. Most times, even moreso true after his return I think, his toughest challenges came in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Pacers rather than the Finals itself. That’s just how it was.

Still, you can’t tell me that there’s another player like Jordan in the history of the NBA. He turned Nike into a global institution. He made the tongue wag a signature taunt. He was a Slam Dunk God during a time when the Dunk Contest was one of the best parts about All-Star Weekend. Fuck, it WAS the best part about All-Star Weekend. His showdowns with Dominique were and still are legendary. Hell, the man played with the flu and scored 38 while killing the Jazz in the 1997 NBA Finals. His shot over Russell to close out the 1998 Finals is the single greatest game winner, I've seen in my entire life. Nothing tops it. Not Eli to Plax to win the Super Bowl, not Gonzo's blooper to dethrone the Yanks in the 2001 World Series, NOTHING TOPS Jordan over Russell.

His number upon retirement, should’ve been retired for good. Nobody should EVER wear that number, much as the numbers 99 and 66 have been retired in the NHL when Gretzky and Super Mario called it quits. It amazes me how Jordan’s the only man who not only killed careers on the court by just victimizing foes, but how his name crippled em’ as well. I remember a young man by the name of Harold Miner from USC in the mid 90s. Baby Jordan he was called, for what reasons I’m unsure. His career was never the same, but then again, I’m not even sure you can say he even HAD one to begin with. All of these so called “Jordan Stoppers”…yeah, take your sign and assume the position. All of these pretenders to the throne, these clowns called the “Next Jordan”…meh. Vince Carter was thought to be the closest coming out of UNC, but while his athleticism is and was fairly close to Jordan’s…he had none of Jordan’s intangibles which made him absolutely great. Kobe in my personal opinion, is the only active player to come the CLOSEST to Jordan as a whole and when it’s all said and done…I think he’ll equal Jordan’s ring count at 6. Ditto for Duncan, who is the best big man to come along since Kareem in my book, probably the greatest forward to ever play the game. Even if Shaq plays another 3 years as he has said, if he stays in Cleveland, he’s winning jack. Oh and LeBron…know what? I’ll draft a letter to you addressing you and this year to come at length. Not to mention what you can do in order to ensure you’re included in this discussion for more practical reasons other than the number you’re wearing.

Jordan more or less in his prime, killed careers. Men like Karl Malone, John Stockton, Patrick Ewing and Reggie Miller can all look to one man as to why they never saw a championship in their career. Michael Jordan existed during the prime of their career. Magic Johnson and Larry Bird benefitted from the fact that their primes came during the early stages of Jordan’s. They were fortunate to not have the Bulls develop (come to think of it, Larry Legend and Jordan only met ONCE in the playoffs, 1986 when he was just two years removed from UNC) to their full potential until 1991. That was when Larry’s back gave out and the Big Three got older, Magic’s supporting cast wasn’t healthy in 1991 when his Lakers were dusted off by the Bulls in 5. (Oh and note, this is one major reason why I think the Cavs fucked up royally with LeBron. I’ll get to this at length in my letter.) Yet and still, when the money was on the wood, you didn’t beat MJ. You just didn’t. Nobody was better at putting his foot on an opponent’s throat and pushing down with all he had. He was the game’s greatest closer, as evident by the six Finals MVP trophies on his mantle. He has just as many regular season MVPs as Bill Russell, who is without question the game’s Platinum Standard for champions with 10 rings as a player and coach. He was All-Star MVP three times, won a National Title as a Freshman in college. Hell, he’s one of a select few to say he was a winner on a collegiate, professional and global level. (2 Gold Medals in 1984 and 1992, National Title in 1982 and oh yeah, those 6 NBA Titles spread out throughout the 1990s.)

Since his departure in 1998, his throne has been vacant. Many pretenders have tried and failed miserably to fill his role as the NBA’s true Demigod so to speak. Tim Duncan, Shaq and Kobe have emerged throughout this decade, winning more than 75% of the titles we’ve seen hoisted in June. Those three ironically enough, saw their beginning at the tail end of Jordan’s career. Shaq is the only one among them to say he got to a Finals at Jordan’s expense, but I digress yet again. Many believe that LeBron’s got the tools to get it done and after seeing him this past postseason…I’m all but inclined to agree. I’m just not convinced he has the supporting cast around him to make it happen. Aside from Jordan’s abilities, Krause and Reinsdorf deserve a LOAD of credit for assembling the rosters which enabled Jordan to have the Association at his feet year in and year out. Had he not retired after the 1993 season, it’s widely believed that the Bulls would’ve matched the Celts’ dominance in the late 50s-early to mid 60s. As a franchise, the Bulls since Jordan’s retirement haven’t been the same. They haven’t seen the Conference Finals in about 11 years, they showed a glimmer of life this past season pushing the Celts to 7 games before being snuffed out. Fact is and remains, Jordan’s Da Man. Oh yeah, one other thing I forgot to mention.

I know he came back after the 1998 season and I know he played for the Wizards. However, much like Rocky IV after Apollo was beaten to death by the Roided Russian and every Rocky after that, I refuse to acknowledge its existence. I won’t have my memories of Jordan tainted by him wearing a Washington uniform, or playing with Kwame Brown in said jersey to boot. I will acknowledge him taking over the Bobcats, because it looks like he learned from his fiasco in Washington and has gotten smarter about how to build a franchise. (I’m pegging Charlotte as a playoff team this season by the by.) I believe the song “King of Kings” by Motorhead fits MJ’s career to a tee, personally. (Look the lyrics up, I don’t have the time to post them here and now.) So to close this one out, I close out with this thought on the equivalent thereof to The Association.

The King of Kings…there’s only one.
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