In the early/mid-90’s I idolized Michael Jordan. I obsessively followed the Bulls and at a time when my life lacked victories, my ultimate escape was Jordan and his Bulls who did nothing but win. My obsession so thorough that with the help of my 10th grade electronics teacher (thx, mr d!), I was able to hack together a cheap long-range AM radio antenna and listen in on the Bulls games all the way from Chicago. Weather permitting the signals to reach, I’d try for every game. Barring that, I checked the box score in the sports section upon waking, flushing out the details of events with imaginings of the drama I missed.
Thanks to Jordan’s third stint in the NBA with the Washington Wizards, I did get to see him play in person, once. Senior year at Rutgers I went to watch the Wizards play in NJ (remember when the Nets played there?) By that point, my obsession had all but faded but it was a tribute to my first childhood hero. I don’t remember exactly what did it, but within a few years I all but MJ out of my mind. I considered him harshly as a jerk and selfish person who, as a child, I had clung to an image of.
Things largely remained there over the past fifteen years and I’ve barely thought of the man and his legacy. Which is somewhat jarring, because I don’t exaggerate in saying my fandom was near the center of my identity as a kid. The memory of all that triggered me to order MIchael Jordan: The Life. No doubt that nostalgia helped spur me, but I also think I wanted to view him with adult eyes.
It was twenty five years ago that I read my last MJ book: The Jordan Rules by Sam Smith. The book is a searingly critical look at his being an asshole but also his competitiveness. But so deep was my adoration that it didn’t bother me then. We excuse what we love, even when we shouldn’t. I loved my idea of MJ: an underdog who willed himself to greatness; craved pressure and always delivered; the genius in our midst. I was too young to realize that those things (partially) could be true, and he could still be an asshole and that was fine.
Reading this book brought me back to my obsession. I was lost in it and just devoured it. Definitely critical towards the legendmaking — it revealed some bad stuff about his family (his parents), his gambling, and his proclivity to be an asshole. But it also humanized him and really brought me back to liking him again. While I never actively hated him, I kind of rolled my eyes at the 12 year old kid who worshipped the ground MJ walked on. After finishing the book, my admiration for the man increased even as I also realized I wouldn’t want to be like him. For anyone who grew up watching the Bulls, this book brings back all the memories and is pretty great.
*unedited…removed once i proofread/clean up.