Tuesday, September 15th, 2009 at 11:02 am  |  42 responses

The Cost Of Winning

MJ showed us it ain’t always pretty.

by Chris O’Leary

Sitting on the floor, way too close to the TV, my eyes were fixated on what was happening in front of me.

Bucket-by-bucket, Michael Jordan was carving the L.A. Lakers up in the 1991 NBA Finals. It culminated in MJ’s completely unnecessary last-minute decision to turn a thundering dunk into a gorgeous left-handed, over-the-head lay-in off the glass. Marv Albert had a reaction just shy of ejaculation and the basketball-viewing world’s jaws collectively hit the floor. And with that, I was hooked.

Fast forward to five more championships, three more MVP’s, two comebacks, five more scoring titles and 18 years later. It’s Friday, September 11 and Jordan has been inducted into the basketball Hall of Fame.

Sitting on my couch, hunched forward watching him on YouTube, I watched as tears rolled down his cheeks while his greatest accomplishments played in front of him. He took the stage in Springfield, straddling a point of transition in his life. And then he spoke.

What he’s said, how he said it, has caught flak in the last few days.

Adrian Wojnarowski at Yahoo! has been at the forefront of the charge, tearing into Jordan after the speech for citing slights with past opponents, for being petty about his successes and an inability to let them go.

I’m left wondering though, was anMichael Jordanyone surprised by this?

Jordan got up on the stage and showed us who he is. He showed us what it took for him to get to that level that allowed him to succeed night after night, year after year.

In his speech, he often made reference to logs on the fire. These translated to MJ storing away all of the slights, doubts from his peers or the media and using them as motivation to prove his detractors wrong. Those slights ranged from the big—being cut from his varsity high school team in favor of Leroy Smith—to the small—being left off of a Sports Illustrated cover as a freshman while at UNC.

As Jordan’s success mounted in the NBA, the stories of his competitive nature become more and more common. Those stories of the logs on Jordan’s fire were also logs on the fire of his legend. The more competitive MJ revealed himself to be, the more he was lauded for it. 

If for nothing else, Jordan is unique in professional sports for the amount of success he had in his career. Save for the years of his first retirement, he led the League in scoring from ’87-98. He went six-for-six in the NBA Finals. You could say that from 1987 onwards, Jordan was the top dog in the NBA. In his last three seasons with Chicago, the expectations were through the roof for him and the Bulls. With the pressure on him every single night for those three years, Jordan led those Bulls teams to win totals of 72, 69 and 62, respectively, all en route to NBA titles.

Jordan never tasted failure in Chicago. He never came up short, wasn’t humbled. While he was mediocre in Washington, those years have been washed away. They’re a blip on the radar that very few have paid attention to, especially in the weeks leading into Jordan’s induction into the Hall.

In his heyday, Jordan played on a stage that was unparalleled for any other NBA player. He had to be the best every night, had to win, had to bring home championships and MVP’s. Had to carry the load, had to carry the expectations of millions of fans, of David Stern, of NBC executives. Really, he was set up to fail. And with the weight of the world on his shoulders, he shook the pressure off like it John Starks on the baseline, spun back and dunked the expectations in everyone’s faces.

Along the waMichael Jordany, in a sense, a monster was created. It’s impossible to be that competitive your whole life and then turn it off when your playing days are done. The traits that put the world in Michael Jordan’s hands are the same ones that have been chastised in the days following his Springfield speech. Wojnarowski said in his piece that “Jordan didn’t hurt his image with the NBA community as much as he reminded them of it.”

If there’s anyone that should understand MJ at all, it’d be the NBA community. In the Jordan montage prior to his speech, Scottie Pippen showed that understanding and said a lot about his former teammate.

“Winning is hard to do,” he said. “And It’s a price that you pay for it and that’s how I saw Michael as a player: as someone that wanted to prove that he’s a winner every day.”

Jordan’s candor on Friday showed that he’s a winner and the cost that it came at. He’s not the guy that I’d want to have any kind of contest with (I picture him keeping a table full of people up, bleary-eyed at 5 in the morning until he won a round of poker) but even today, I’d put my money on him for a five-minute stretch through the final stages of a tight game in the NBA. Because nobody won like Michael Jordan.

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  • Ken

    While I admire his drive to win, I think at times it bordered on being unhealthy.

  • http://slamonline.com YKnot

    So we make excuses for petty behavior when its’ Mike, but we chastise others who want to be like him. LeBron didn’t shake hands in the name of competiveness and we blasted him. Brandon Jennings said Ramon Sessions should find a new home and gets told he’s arrogant, but he’s exhibiting the same “passion” for being the top dog. True greatness comes from knowing there’s a time and a place for everything. A time to shake hands, hang up with Joe buddens, and to let bygones be bygones!

  • http://slamonline.com Brad Long

    What are the odds that, just to one up MJ, Kobe just walks up on stage when he’s inducted and says “Fu(k all yall!” and walks off?

  • http://fashionsensei.files.wordpress.com/2008/02/jackie-moon.jpg Jackie Moon

    “It’s impossible to be that competitive your whole life and then turn it off when your playing days are done. ” I hear this all the time, but it’s completely unsubstantiated, and is loosely thrown out there as if it’s a fact. It’s just an excuse to be and azz off of the court.

  • riggs

    i didnt see anything wrong in his speech. at all.

  • http://bulls.com airs

    Adrian Wojnarowski must’ve ben a jazz fan. or an idiot. but whats the difference

  • http://azmaniandevil.wordpress.com Azhar

    I completely agree with this statement. I was reading tweets about Jordan’s speech and it was literally 50-50 love/hate. So I had to see for myself, and when I saw the video I never thought Jordan went out of his way to insult/belittle anyone. It was just him being himself, and I found some parts particularly funny like the headache bit and the “If I see him in shorts, I’m coming at him”

  • http://azmaniandevil.wordpress.com Azhar

    Great point, I completely agree with this. I was reading tweets about Jordan’s speech and it was literally 50-50 love/hate. So I had to see for myself, and when I saw the video I never thought Jordan went out of his way to insult/belittle anyone. It was just him being himself, and I found some parts particularly funny like the headache bit and the “If I see him in shorts, I’m coming at him”

  • http://azmaniandevil.wordpress.com Azhar

    WTF double post? My bad…

  • http://www.mybleedingfingertips.blogspot.com/ Myles Brown

    “Very nice. How much?”

  • http://bleacherreport.com/users/42594-hoops4life Overtime

    lol @ Airs

  • http://slamonline.com niQ

    LOL@ Brad Long

  • Exile

    MJ can say what he wants. Really. You want to chastise him now? If you are gonna do that… look him in the eye when you do it, so we can again enjoy the competitive streak that is MJ. Besides, people look too deeply into things these days. Relax.

  • Marco

    bulls 2013-2014 champions

  • http://www.nba.com/suns Hersey

    I loved the speech. It gave a rare view behind of the scenes which I enjoyed. We make excuses for great people because it is no small feat to be great and I wouldn’t expect everyone to be able to relate.

  • http://fashionsensei.files.wordpress.com/2008/02/jackie-moon.jpg Jackie Moon

    Turn off the competitiveness, MJ. It’s annoying. What, you can’t control yourself? Get a grip.

  • Sarah

    @ Brad Long, I’d say they’re pretty good.

  • Bruno, RJ

    ppl that don’t get his speech are the same that can’t understand anything besides “the media”
    jordan went there and he was who he is supposed to be… not the average guy, not the kind of person who will say all the things ppl expect him to say
    that was the gran finale of his career and he had all the rights to tell everyone how he was BUILT.
    after everything he’s done, and it was a LOT, he always took a lot of hits, specially from those “media dudes”, poorly mediocre guys who can’t do anything good with their lifes but they get the chance to write/say stuff that a lot of ppl give credit for… thats the “year 2000 generation”, where journalist are celebrities…
    Jordan fought a lot to be the best, and he is… the best athlete all time, on the best sport there is…
    just congrats and thanks for all the momories… it was great to grow up watching you.

  • Bruno, RJ

    just an idiot would compare MJ’s attitude with lebron’s or brandon jennings.

    it’s just too easy to be a nobody and write all kind of stuff about somebody on yahoo, but it’s even more impressive how lame ppl are around the world. thats why journalist can write/say whatever they want… there will always be a stupid to believe.

  • mdshuai

    How do you “turn it off?” You’re talking about an internal trait that’s been bred in the man since BEFORE he was competing in the NBA; competition (and the winning of it) is his life. I enjoyed the speech, and I didn’t find it at all petty or bitter. I felt like he was just explaining how he came to be who he was, and illustrating a few key examples. On another note, Bryon Russel has to be one of the 3 least intelligent human beings on the planet. Who challenges the man like that and thinks they can get away with it?

  • http://double-technical.blogspot.com Zee!

    Great article about MJ in the Washington City Paper:


  • Teddy-the-Bear

    Mike was really telling the audience about little anecdotes that helped fuel his competitive mentality. I thought it was great. I felt a little bad for Bryon Russell, but that was really it. As competitive as Mike is, and aside from the gambling and what other nonsense, he actually seems like a nice enough guy. Well, off the court; you`re supposed to be mean on the court.

  • Lz – Cphfinest3

    I liked his speech. The people who criticise it, are the same people who get angry when you overtake them on the freeway. I didn’t think there was any mean or bitter part in it. Yes, he chose an honest and competitive route instead of going the ‘roses are red, violets are blue’ route that just about every professional athlete takes these days. This was a real human being talking and sharing his thoughts on his career, his fire, and how it was born. Not some pre-programmed media robot boring everybody to death by saying all the obivious things and kissing the cheeks of all the obivious people. How refreshingly was it to not hear the lord’s name mentioned. Thank you Mike.

  • sheedfan

    MJ @ 50! Stop Laughing!

  • Marcus

    @ Jackie moon since u call urself a will ferrell character I will take u as a joke. Understand mike was not the choosen 1 hell da bulls didn’t even want him! He took all the doubt and pressure of not only a team but a league and NEVER let either down. The man has lost personally almost as much as he has won professionally! U don’t think he blamed himself 4 his father? Failed marriage? I think when he was up on that stage it all hit him and he said what was in his heart not wat u wanted to hear. Wat I’m sayin is the man owes us nothing bcuz he has given it 2 us already.a warrior must have no regard 4 his enemies well being let alone his emotions. Heavy is the head that wears the crown. Long live da KING

  • Marcus

    Big up Bruno well said 2

  • http://joeloholic.wordpress.com Joel O’s

    Our obsession with political correctness castrates us. This is vintage MJ, whether we like it or not. The competitive side of the true greats isn’t always pretty, but it makes them what they are.

  • http:///realcavsfans.com Anton

    “Jordan never tasted failure in Chicago”…umm, how about 1984-1990?

  • BK All Day

    I loved Robinson and Stockton’s speeches… they were classy.

  • Hangtime Hec

    I liked Jordan’s speech. BUT. Does every winner have to be such a a-hole, and a arrogant selfless beast? I mean if thats what it takes to be a winner, than I would rather be a loser. This culture obsession with winning is sickening. Still tho, I loved the honesty that Mike had in the speech. But it is somthing to think about.

  • Marcus

    That was prolly da softest shyt I ever heard lmao ^

  • Marcus

    @ Anton 84-90 no rings after 91 he never played a COMPLETE season in Chicago and not won a chip. Just facts

  • hillbilly

    Re: “Jordan got up on the stage and showed us who he is.”
    Yeah, he did. He showed us what a sore winner he is.

    When a player of Jordan’s stature calls out a guy like Bryon Russell, it’s like watching someone using hand grenades to kill a housefly.

    The Bulls won it all in ’98 & he’s still got beef over some stupid remark that Russell made about guarding him. So, what was dude supposed to say?

    “Hey, Mike. Since you’re the greatest of all time, I’m just gonna hang back and let you do your thing. I’d wish you luck in the series, but I don’t think you’ll need it.”


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  • Jake

    Why is everyone making such a big deal about his joke?He and Bryon Russell both have said they are friends in the past,they aren’t allowed to joke around through the media?As for the UNC Sports Illustrated issue,did no one hear the part where he said”I know Dean Smith left me off the cover because he didn’t want to give a freshman too much media coverage,and that is fine but a the time it lit me up.”I watched the entire speech and didn’t find one thing wrong with it.A lot of people have also had issues with him telling his kids he feels sorry for them.They don’t mention the fact that he said he feels sorry for them because they have to live in the limelight their whole lives under scrutinizing media coverage and unbelievable expectations.I would feel sorry for my kids too if I was in that situation….Maybe if you are one of those fans that gets offended easily when an athlete is honest and candid like Mike you should pick a sport like golf to watch.Then again Tiger woods said F*ck on the golf course after missing a putt 2 weeks ago so I guess that makes him an over competitive hooligan.

    By the way,this wasn’t directed at any of you:)I’m just hoping one of the idiots from Fox Sports that twisted his whole speech reads this.

  • BigShotBob24

    Good column, Chris.

  • pablo

    MJ is the greatest. period

  • RedGold&Green

    The God MC!

  • http://slamonline.com Brandon Acker

    The thing about MJ that you cant take away is the fact that he took rings flat away from Hall of Famers , granit his team was great but stockton malone barkley i mean i know detroit got one but they should of had many. His will to win i dont think we will ever see from any player again and the way he could dig deep.THE flu game was the greatest single performance i think i have ever seen. About his speech the only thing that turned me the wrong way is that he still thinks he could do all that shit again. Why he cant just accept that we all think he is the best ever and give his thanks.. The way he called people out was unecessary but thats how he is.. Dude is crazy competitive but he the best ever.

  • http://northwestern Birdman

    I do not have a problem with this at all. This speech gives me goosebumps and makes me miss the energy and competitiveness that he brought to the game. I really don’t know what everyone’s problem is with this at all.

    “If you want everyone to like you in life, be a failure”

  • Mack

    Jordan is Jordan, he’s not going to be someone else, his speech was long and drawn out, but he was honest, his words were what came to mind, and he was still his competitive old self. I don’t think he did any harm on stage that night. If you can’t take heat from Jordan now, you obviously haven’t learned about him because he perfected trash-talking.

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/LetYourGameSpeak81 J

    No one has the right to judge him. Period. Who are you to say anything about him? So what if the way he came off bothers you? It was his moment not yours, he gets to choose how it goes, not you. Whats done is done, no point complaining about it.