It’s not for me to say whether sports have become better or worse these past few years. I have no way of knowing that. But as the NBA playoffs wind down and old tales of the Dream Team resurface, I am reminded of how much it has all changed in such a short amount of time. My guess is that more than anything, the great change can be attributed to the absence of one man. Writers today often refer to the current state of basketball as the Post-Jordan era, but for me the meaning stretches far beyond any one sport, if not beyond sports in general.
To call Michael Jordan a basketball player seems to me like one of the greatest understatements anyone can ever make when talking about modern sports. His career transcended statistics and discussions of mere celebrity and endorsement deals. No, Michael was in the purest form, a champion. Our champion. One that defined an era like no athlete ever had, except Muhammad Ali, with whom the word boxer also seems to fall incredibly short.
Like Ali, Jordan was a living testament to the great potential of the human spirit, aided not just by perseverance or even an unwavering belief in oneself, but more so by a tremendous sense of focus, unhindered by fortune or fame, a focus that can only grow with a passion for your craft. In this way Michael Jordan was a true artist, who, like some great sculptor, constantly re-evaluates and strengthens his work perhaps to the point of obsession. In the eyes of the watching world, the result always became nothing less than just that, art, which would be studied and admired not just by future athletes and sports fans, but by anyone who appreciates beauty.
To have achieved this means you have done more than entertain, you have inspired those of various trades and walks of life. It is an achievement that very few athletes can claim.
When future generations ask me of the time in which I lived, perhaps I’ll begin by telling them how, as a kid, I got to see Michael Jordan play. I’ll begin by telling them how I saw a man fly.