We all remember Michael Jordan for the records, the titles, the dunks, and the big shots. But what about everything else?
The age requirement for witnessing Michael Jordan’s career as it happened is increasing. It’s unlikely that anyone under 20 remembers seeing him play, and even more unlikely that anyone under 30 followed his career from beginning to end. Even if you did, how clear are your memories after two decades?
Most of us don’t remember how good Michael Jordan was. We still remember the moments—the dunk contests, “God disguised as Michael Jordan,” the flu game, the double nickel, punching Steve Kerr in practice, going toe-to-toe with Reggie Miller for seven games in the most underrated playoff series ever, the Bryon Russell shot. My personal favorite: he dunked on the shortest player on the Jazz, heard Utah owner Larry Miller call him out for it, and then, on the next play, dunked on their tallest player.
My memory of Michael Jordan begins at about seven with his third championship, his foray into baseball, and his return to basketball. He laid waste to the league with that post move where he leaned back into his defender, creating space for an automatic and unblockable turnaround fade-away. But my MJ memories exclude the first nine years of his career.
At this point, it’s near-impossible to separate Michael Jordan from the image he’s cultivated over the years, and that’s by design. Even though we now know him as the Jumpman logo—looming over everything, hooping with Bugs Bunny, owning a team, and wearing a Hitler moustache in a Hanes’ commercial just because he can—we have to remind ourselves that he didn’t come into the league fully formed.
During his career, Jordan wouldn’t allow his likeness in videogames because he viewed his own brand as more valuable than any of the money he’d get from NBA Players Association. His career passed his fans by without ever giving them a chance to live through him virtually or vicariously. That is, until the release of NBA 2K11, 10 years after the fact, where the Michael Jordan mythos becomes a collection of video-game challenges, each based around one of the great triumphs of his career.
Jordan’s pathological competitiveness most recently came out during his Hall of Fame acceptance speech. Did he come up with the idea for this game because he wanted the younger generation to know how good he was, and the best way to hammer it home—in MJ’s hyper-competitive mind—was to throw down the gauntlet and see if they could match it? He hit “the shot,” and then a decade more of them. Can we do the same … in a videogame?
The requirements of one challenge are to average 31-plus points and 11-plus assists, shoot 55 percent from the field, and win a seven-game series against Magic’s Showtime Lakers. Those numbers are really, really hard to put up, even if MJ plays like he’s rated 130 out of 100. The challenges are so tough; they succeed in reminding us how good he was. After all, he completed them in real life.
We all know “72-10” but break it down into that season’s streaks. Jordan’s Bulls went 10-1, 13-1, 18-0, 19-5, and 11-2. But lost in the history he made and everything he’s come to stand for is how breathtaking Michael Jordan was on a day-to-day basis.
He went all out every day—even in practice—to set an example.
“He wanted to be the best player on the best team,” Bill Wennington said. “In order to do that, he understood that he had to have 11 other guys working hard all the time.”
The Artistry of Michael Jordan, by HoopsEncyclopedia, is a 10-minute tribute to the man and his endless fakes, mid-air adjustments, and finishes. They’re from all of his games, not just the important ones. Watching them, it dawns on you how much of his career you missed because of the way we watched sports in the ’80s and ’90s. That is, without wall-to-wall saturation.
People say that Michael Jordan was the best because he wanted to dominate his opponent every second of every possession, every single night. And he did that for 18 years. This is what that looks like—just another example of his branding.