NBA legend Michael Jordan celebrates his 50th birthday today. I consider myself blessed as a Chicagoan to have witnessed Superman in gym shorts; the greatest player in NBA history. As the birthday wishes roll in along with the memories, I can't help but marvel at Michael Jordan's remarkable career and legacy.
While Larry Bird and Magic Johnson are widely credited with saving pro basketball in the late 70's, it was Michael Jordan who elevated the NBA internationally while redefining sports marketing. The Jordan brand is remarkable both for its global reach and longevity. A decade since Michael Jordan retired, Nike's Jordan brand commands nearly 60% of the shoe market. I sense my own grand kids will run around in Air Jordan gym shoes some day.
Michael Jordan is universally described by those around him as the most competitive man on the planet. From the NBA Finals "Flu game" when Jordan scored 38 points to betting on golf, ping pong or sudoku, MJ is a man who hates to lose. Even today, on his birthday, Michael Jordan competes against himself as he fights to get back to his playing weight.
As fans gather for tonight's NBA All-Star game in Houston the talk turns to today's players and whether any are heirs of Michael Jordan.
The quick answer is no.
LeBron James is the closest to Michael Jordan talent wise; a player who may yet gather as much hardware as Jordan before he's done.
But Michael Jordan would never have orchestrated the "dream team" Miami Heat squad by recruiting teammates the way LeBron James did. Michael Jordan, uber competitor, wanted to beat the best, not join them. He managed to crush every star from his era, from Bird and Magic to Charles Barkley, Karl Malone and Clyde Drexler. With the ones who got him early, like Isiah Thomas, he managed sweet revenge.
Michael Jordan isn't perfect, and one wonders how he would have been treated had he played in New York rather than in front of Chicago's often fawning media.
I met Michael Jordan in 1985 during his rookie season with the Chicago Bulls. I was in the Dallas airport on a family trip when I spotted an impeccably dressed man standing in the corner of the gate area. My Dad and I debated who he was when suddenly I realized it was in fact Michael Jordan. I scrambled to find a scrap of paper before approaching Michael, in Dallas on an off day shooting a commercial. He was gracious, sheepishly looking at me and realizing I had blown his "cover" as other fans approached. On the plane Jordan held court with the stewards and passengers about the NBA and the Bulls upcoming playoff series against Milwaukee.
I still have the scrap of paper though the memory is what's enduring.
An inscription on the Michael Jordan statue outside of the United Center reads: "The best there ever was. The best there ever will be."
I don't believe in superheroes, other than Superman.
What's your favorite Michael Jordan memory? I would enjoy hearing from you and thanks so much for reading.
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