Full-court PRESS

Michael Jordan may not be lik­able, but he’s still the great­est to have played the game

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - BOOKS - Re­viewed by Roger Cur­rie

ELEVEN years af­ter Michael Jordan played his last game in the Na­tional Bas­ket­ball As­so­ci­a­tion, he re­mains one of the best known names in bas­ket­ball — or in any sport. Jordan’s name is also one that continues to carry plenty of con­tro­versy. And while his pro­file is some­what re­duced these days, Jordan was among the many who weighed in on dis­graced L.A. Clip­pers owner Don­ald Ster­ling, the man at the cen­tre of the NBA’s cur­rent racially mo­ti­vated con­tro­versy. In many re­spects, Roland Lazenby’s ca­reer as a sportswriter has par­al­leled Jordan’s as an ath­lete. Both have strong con­nec­tions to North Carolina, and Lazenby al­ready cov­eredc much ground on Jordan in his 1998 book Blood on the Horns: theth Long Strange Ride of Michael Jordan’sJ Chicago Bulls. While this lat­est book is by no means a hatchet job, it’s in no way an au­tho­rized bi­og­ra­phy of the 51-yearold Jordan. The au­thor had only brief ac­cess to him to clar­ify some in­for­ma­tion about Jordan’s great-grand­fa­ther. Fur­ther ac­cess was de­nied byb the star ath­lete be­cause Lazenby wouldn’t ac­cept Jordan’s de­mand for ed­i­to­rial con­trol. The au­thor did have ac­cess to manym of the key fig­ures in Jordan’s lifeli and ca­reer, in­clud­ing his coaches anda team­mates at the Univer­sity of North Carolina, as well as his many con­nec­tions in the Chicago Bulls or­ga­ni­za­tion, in­clud­ing team­mates such as Scot­tie Pip­pen. At 691 pages, the book is a bit of an in­tim­i­dat­ing doorstop­per. It goes into great de­tail about his 1984 ar­rival in the NBA, in­clud­ing the land­mark deal with Nike that guar­an­teed him riches far be­yond what the Bulls were able to pay him as a rookie. From the get-go, as Air Jordan, Michael was both a star ath­lete and a busi­ness­man, more than any other African-Amer­i­can in sports dur­ing those years. He no doubt broke ground for oth­ers. Lazenby also tells of Michael Jordan’s darker sides, in­clud­ing his love of gam­bling, which should more prop­erly be de­scribed as a se­ri­ous ad­dic­tion; Jordan may have lost as much as $5 mil­lion shoot­ing craps dur­ing the NBA All Star weekend in 2007. Among oth­ers bet­ting on those par­tic­u­lar dice was Adam (Pac­man) Jones of the NFL’s Cincin­nati Ben­gals. Gam­bling was def­i­nitely a fac­tor in Jordan’s de­par­ture from the Bulls, as well as the un­happy end of his first mar­riage. Jordan’s pa­ter­nal great-grand­fa­ther, Daw­son Jordan, was a share­crop­per and moon­shiner who died when Michael was 14. An­other strong in­flu­ence was his ma­ter­nal grand­fa­ther, Ed­ward Peo­ples, who also made moon­shine. These older men as­sumed a larger role in Michael’s early life be­cause his fa­ther, James Jordan, showed him rel­a­tively lit­tle af­fec­tion as a boy, pre­fer­ring to lav­ish more at­ten­tion on Michael’s older brother Larry. On the bas­ket­ball court, Michael Jordan was fe­ro­ciously com­pet­i­tive, al­though Lazenby points out that many op­po­nents were openly crit­i­cal of his dom­i­nant style, which re­flected some­thing less than a “team” ap­proach to the game. He also sug­gests that Jordan took no spe­cial na­tional pride in leading the first NBA Dream Team to Olympic gold in Barcelona in 1992. No other coun­try came close to chal­leng­ing the Amer­i­cans in that tour­na­ment, and Jordan seemed more than a lit­tle bored by it all. Af­ter leav­ing the Bulls, he dal­lied briefly with the Wash­ing­ton Wiz­ards, and also tried his hand at base­ball, per­haps try­ing to make up for his par­tial child­hood fail­ure as a Lit­tle League player. These days, Jordan main­tains a high pro­file in bas­ket­ball as owner of the NBA’s Char­lotte Hor­nets. The mo­ment that showed the com­plex­ity and con­tra­dic­tions that make up Michael Jordan were abun­dantly clear in Septem­ber 2009, when he was in­ducted into the Bas­ket­ball Hall of Fame. Sports Il­lus­trated de­scribed his per­for­mance as the “Exxon Valdez of ac­cep­tance speeches,” a ref­er­ence to the 1989 tanker dis­as­ter in Alaska. In­stead of ex­tend­ing olive branches to any­one, Jordan dumped on many a ri­val, and sin­gled out a num­ber of people he felt had hurt him along the way. Many were aghast by his re­marks, but many oth­ers were not overly sur­prised. At a num­ber of points in Michael Jordan: The Life, the reader al­most gets the feel­ing that Roland Lazenby might have pre­ferred trash­ing Jordan, but he couldn’t — when all is said and done, Jordan re­mains the great­est player the game has known.

Roger Cur­rie is a Win­nipeg writer and broad­caster.

JOHN SWART / THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILES

While Jordan was a dom­i­nant force on the hard­wood, he was of­ten crit­i­cized for not play­ing a ‘team’ game.

Michael Jordan: The Life

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