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On Michael Jordan, LeBron James, And Time Machines

Posted: Fri May 15, 2020 8:51 pm
by RealGM Articles

Time machines do not exist. And as any fan of the “Back to the Future” trilogy can tell you, even pretending that they do unlooses a literally endless barrage of questions related to theoretical physics and the very fabric of the space-time continuum. Analyzing what the shifting of even one, mundane wrinkle of history could do on a macro-scale is so ignorant of these concerns that time-machine hypotheticals applied to the ultimately pretty insignificant topic of sports is, perhaps, the very lowest form of pop-cultural discourse. Nevertheless, sports fans and, more prominently, media professionals, persist ahead with thoughtless comparisons between basketball players from the 1990s and the current day, and other, even more extreme adventures of impossible analysis. With the nation on lockdown during a pandemic, turning somewhere nostalgic with “The Last Dance” for their sports fix, this plague of cognitive dissonance is thriving more than it ever has.

“So let me get this straight,” a recent popular tweet about Michael Jordan said. “[the greatest player of all time] didn’t like his GM personally, never demanded a trade, went to work everyday [and] did his job until they won six championships. But kids today will leave high school, AAU and college teams because the coach isn’t into being your buddy or finessing your feelings.” The tweet, reposted around ten-thousand times at time of writing, distills a widely held set of principles projected onto Jordan, but also opposes a different set of principles, projected onto following generations of players, often rendered as superior to Jordan in various ways. Both matrices of basketball thought, along with being very stupid, exist in ahistorical vacuums built to affirm collective biases.

Take, for example, the fact that we actually do have data on how Michael Jordan would behave in an era of the NBA different from the one he won championships in. For two years in the early 2000’s, during a time that—in large part because of his own efforts—players had way more power to curate how franchises worked around their own desires, Jordan played for the Washington Wizards. Though widely ignored (probably because it is, for the most part, sort of depressing), this period of Jordan’s career is very instructive in showing us how power conditions in the league are always changing. On the Wizards, Jordan had the agency necessary to choose his own coach, and he chose a former coach, Doug Collins. Largely perceived as a Jordan yes-man, Collins was dismissed from the Chicago Bulls in the late 80’s for Phil Jackson who, in tandem with lauded assistant Tex Winter, took the ball out of Jordan’s hands more often, in order to build a more comprehensive offensive attack. 

This bit of airbrushed early 00’s history has Jordan quite demonstrably rejecting the old-fashioned ethos often projected onto him, given different conditions. Imagining how a cocky young Jordan would navigate the current AAU system is a whole other matter; imagining how he would play in an era during which superstars regularly exceed his previously historical late-80’s usage rate, and also take more than several three-pointers per game, is yet another. We can speculate with a certain amount of certainty that he would, in some way, adjust positively to these realities, but in doing so we’re again in the forest of hypotheticals and butterfly effects and dorm-room philosophy about the nature of time and consequence, somehow entered into by sub-amateurs on these matters, by way of basketball debate. 

What’s inarguable, in reflecting on Jordan’s pretty forgotten time in Washington, is his own role in creating the circumstances he exploited. From his culture-changing deal with Nike to his newscycle-stopping premature retirement in 1993, among many other massive moments, Jordan put his hands on how the league worked in a way that no one ever had. And 17 years after Jordan held our attention by deciding whether to play anymore or not, LeBron James held it by producing a TV special in which he decided which franchise would get to enjoy melding their corporation with his. This flex of power was, apparently, more interesting to the average person than anything that had happened since Jordan’s final championship, as it marks the beginning of a quite quantifiable renaissance in the NBA’s cultural relevance.

After LeBron, someone else will show their power in a way that he or Jordan, or Wilt Chamberlain or Bill Russell before them, previously hasn’t. Inevitably, debates that assume non-existent mastery of quantum physics will proceed, centered around how this person would fare against Jordan, or James, or anyone else from the past, on the court. The most interesting part, which won’t be up for debate, is that we will be in the throes of someone so good at their job that they are able to change the way that everyone else goes about doing it. The gravity of witnessing such a person inspires deep, and deeply inarticulable emotion—perhaps this is why our efforts to express what they do to us so often manifest in such useless, gibberistic ways. When this next happens, though, let’s instead engage in a constant, ultimately Sisyphean, but also ultimately beautiful, attempt to understand history—current and past, as it unfolds and has unfolded, instead of play-acting at total comprehension and control.

Re: On Michael Jordan, LeBron James, And Time Machines

Posted: Sat May 16, 2020 8:59 am
by papfankon
Very thoughtfully end eloquently executed anti - Jordan piece. The issue is not the lack of impartiallity per se. The issue is the lack of understanding that we express opinions that remain just that , and the apparent attempts to disguise a writing as impartial supposedly absolving it of criticism, are much more dangerous to the core of dialectical exchange of ideas than any hot take like piece out there.

Re: On Michael Jordan, LeBron James, And Time Machines

Posted: Mon May 18, 2020 2:19 am
by tihsad
I understand that few of the hits on RealGM read these articles, but if this site ever wants a semblance of credibility these verbose (any understanding of economy of word, a standard of journalism, would cut most of this garbage word count in half) need to be controlled by a credible editor. Given the current stable of writers I'd suggest RealGM stick to linking other credible sites, banking on the forum, and eliminate the "journalists" - your writing team resembles the sophomore entry team to a poorly written high school newspaper.

Re: On Michael Jordan, LeBron James, And Time Machines

Posted: Thu May 21, 2020 1:01 am
by popfan
When I think of Jordan I think of the ultimate winner. The Bulls chiseled their way through a deep Eastern conference. When MJ finally burst into the finals he was all grown up.

When I think of Lebron I see a great player and champion. His teams generally qualified for the finals due to his talent and due to the weakness of the Eastern conference. As a result Lebron grew up through his finals experiences. Against the Spurs, Lebron's Cavs team got a taste. With the Heat, Lebron matured and succeeded over a legendary Spurs team. With a weaker Cavs team, Lebron overcame an overrated Warriors team. It feels like he has another defining moment left, another mountain to summit.

This is where analytics fails. One cannot quantitatively compare the playing careers of MJ and Lebron. Personal values determine whom you appreciate most. When football legend Junior Seau passed away, John Elway wisely said "Junior played the game the right way." Between MJ & Lebron, who played the game the right way? To you?

I consider Dennis Rodman #1, MJ #2, Duncan between #3-5, and Lebron between #6-10. ESPN rankings are irrelevant because my personal values are my own.

Re: On Michael Jordan, LeBron James, And Time Machines

Posted: Tue May 26, 2020 3:13 pm
by puja21
popfan wrote:Personal values determine whom you appreciate most. When football legend Junior Seau passed away, John Elway wisely said "Junior played the game the right way." Between MJ & Lebron, who played the game the right way? To you?

I consider Dennis Rodman #1, MJ #2, Duncan between #3-5, and Lebron between #6-10. ESPN rankings are irrelevant because my personal values are my own.

I'm curious what you value most about Rodman.

Ignoring the obvious about scoring etc... I'm just surprised you feel he "played the game the right way"

Are your personal values specifically about his play on the court? Diving for loose balls, unselfish offense, willing to guard Shaq or anyone, etc ?

How do you reconcile him as a teammate when he is missing so much time due to suspensions, unexplained absences, legal trouble etc ?

Oct. 9, 1992 -- Misses opening of Detroit Pistons' training camp, saying his pending divorce and the departure of coach Chuck Daly has sapped his desire to play basketball. Rodman ends up missing all of camp.

Nov. 20, 1992 -- Suspended by Pistons for three games for refusing to go on a road trip.

Feb. 11, 1993 -- Police are notified after Rodman leaves a friend's house with a gun. He is later found asleep in his truck at The Palace at Auburn Hills, where he was shooting baskets.

March 11, 1993 -- Suspended one game by the Pistons for skipping practice.

March 14, 1993 -- Fined $500 for leaving the bench during a fight in a game with the Chicago Bulls.

Dec. 20, 1993 -- Suspended one game and fined $7,500 for head-butting Chicago's Stacey King and failing to leave the court in a timely fashion after being ejected.

Jan. 4, 1994 -- Fined $10,000 for failing to leave the court and verbally abusing referees in game against the Lakers.

March 4, 1994 -- Suspended one game and fined $5,000 for head-butting Utah's John Stockton and making derogatory comments about referees after a game.

May 2, 1994 -- Fined $10,000 and suspended for Game 3 of the Spurs' first-round playoff series with Utah after being called for a flagrant foul and receiving two technicals, his sixth ejection of the season.

Oct. 20, 1994 -- Fined $15,000 by Spurs for arriving late to an exhibition game in which he was not expected to play.

Nov. 2, 1994 -- Suspended indefinitely by Spurs for throwing a bag of ice toward coach Bob Hill and an official after receiving his second technical in an exhibition game.

Nov. 12, 1994 -- Begins 14-game paid leave of absence from Spurs.

March 19, 1995 -- Separates shoulder in a motorcycle accident, an injury that would cause him to miss 14 games late in the season.

May 1, 1995 -- Fined $7,500 and assessed one flagrant foul point for throwing Denver's Dikembe Mutombo to the floor in a game.

May 14, 1995 -- Benched during Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals for arguing with coach Hill and refusing to join team huddles

Jan. 12, 1996 -- Fined $5,000 for verbally abusing referees and failing to leave the court in a timely fashion after being ejected
in a game with Seattle.

March 18, 1996 -- Suspended for six games and fined $20,000 for head-butting a referee following his ejection from a game against New Jersey.

Aug. 20, 1996 -- Accused, in a $750,000 federal lawsuit, by a Delta Center usher of pinching her buttocks in a May 5, 1994 game against Utah.

Dec. 10, 1996 -- Suspended by Bulls for two games after using profanity in a live television interview following his ejection from a game against Toronto.

Jan. 17, 1997 -- Suspended by NBA indefinitely, but for at least 11 games, and fined $25,000 for kicking a courtside television photographer during a game at Minnesota.

March 4, 1997 -- Suspended by NBA for one game without pay and fined $7,500 for deliberately striking Milwaukee forward Joe Wolfin the groin in a game on March 3.

June 12, 1997 -- Fined $50,000 for his offensive statements concerning the Mormon population in Salt Lake City.

Oct. 23, 1997 -- Signed one-year contract after sitting out exhibition season.

Jan. 23, 1998 -- Sent home from New Jersey after missing a shoot around following a late night out.

Feb. 15-16, 1998 -- Fined and lost starting role for two games after skipping two practices.

May 15, 1998 -- Fined for showing up late to practice and skipping drills after late-night celebration for his 37th birthday.

June 3, 1998 -- Flew to Las Vegas for night of gambling that stretched into the morning after Bulls lost Game 1 of the NBA Finals to Utah.

June 5, 1998 -- Accused, in a $300,000 lawsuit, by a craps dealer at The Mirage of rubbing his bald head, stomach and groin with dice in October 1997.

June 8, 1998 -- Fined $10,000 by NBA for skipping practice and a mandatory media session during the NBA Finals. Later was seen attending a wrestling match in Auburn Hills, Mich., with Hulk Hogan.

June 10, 1998 -- Accused, in a $3.3 million federal lawsuit, by a Las Vegas woman of grabbing her breast April 19 at the Las Vegas Hilton.

June 19, 1998 -- Accused, in a $10.5 million federal lawsuit, by a Las Vegas Hilton employee of grabbing her near her breasts April 19.

Nov. 10, 1998 -- Accused, in a lawsuit by a West Hollywood cocktail waitress, of jamming a $100 bill down her blouse and grabbing her breast Oct. 3 while she was working.

Nov. 25, 1998 -- Accused of assault, battery, negligence, false imprisonment and emotional distress in a criminal complaint by the cocktail waitress who sued him Nov. 10.

Jan. 19, 1999 -- Tells agent Dwight Manley he is retiring "to go into the sports and entertainment field."

March 13, 1999 -- Less than 3 weeks after signing with the Lakers (they were 10-0 with Rodman), he arrives at end of practice session, says he has to leave for a while. Lakers give him indefinite leave to handle undisclosed personal problems.

March 21, 1999 -- Rejoins Lakers after missing four games. Rodman says he was fined $100 per game for absence.

April 15, 1999 -- Rodman, late for practice again, says he couldn't find shoes and socks. Lakers announce the decision to release him.

May 4, 1999 -- Reached a settlement in a civil lawsuit that accused him of assaulting college student Jason Sandeman on Jan. 21st at a Wilshire-area hamburger joint.

Aug. 22, 1999 -- Released from jail after being arrested on suspicion of intoxication in a public place after a verbal confrontation at a restaurant in Newport Beach, Calif.

Nov. 5, 1999 -- Rodman and Electra were arrested on battery charges after getting into a fight at a hotel in Miami Beach, Fla. Both were charged with misdemeanors and ordered to stay at least 500 feet away from each other. The charges were later dropped.

Dec. 4, 1999 -- Dixie Johnson, a former adult entertainer, agreed to dismiss the federal lawsuit she filed in June 1998 against Rodman. She claimed Rodman sexually assaulted her in April 1998 at the Las Vegas Hilton.

Dec. 22, 1999 -- Arrested in Costa Mesa, CA for investigation of drunken driving after he flunked the field sobriety test conducted by a special driving-under-the-influence team.

Jan. 4, 2000 -- Two women who claimed Rodman sexually assaulted them, in separate incidents in October 1998, reached out-of-court settlements.

Feb. 16, 2000 -- Less than two weeks after signing with the Mavericks, he was suspended for one game and fined $10,000, a day after being ejected from a game and later saying he wanted to duke it out with David Stern.