Maybe Lil Wayne should record Dedication 5 in “The Jordan Dome.” Or whatever the rap equivalent is.
There comes a point in time when every celebrity has a line-in-the-sand moment. One of those times when they look themselves in the mirror only to come to the realization things what aren’t what they once were. Take this quote from Michael Jordan 18 summers ago. That’s 1995 for the mathematically inclined.
“Now people are saying Hakeem is the best player. They’re right. He was the best last year, and he still is. That’s motivation. It’s a pride thing. Can I change that, within the confines of what’s best for this team, and help us win another championship? I can’t make those judgments myself. But I can play the kind of basketball I played two years ago, then let people make a choice.”
The Bulls lost their second round matchup against a Shaq and Penny-led Orlando Magic team in six earlier that spring, making it the second and last time a team featuring Jordan would lose in the playoffs in the 1990’s. The problem wasn’t with MJ’s game taking a significant swan dive south since the 1993 Finals.* It didn’t. Plus, it wasn’t as if Orlando was a slouch team in its own right. O’Neal and Hardaway were the darling picks for “best young duo with limitless potential who’ll dominate the league together for the next decade.” If anything, his timing, conditioning and instincts needed renovations.
Enter “The Jordan Dome.” This piece of work was constructed while MJ shot Space Jam. It was here Jordan held pickup games throughout the summer taking his body through an unreal training regiment capped off with a “cool down” portion of pickup games. And the competition wasn’t production crew interns or Bill Murray either. Reggie Miller, Dennis Rodman, Patrick Ewing, Grant Hill, Rod Strickland, Glen Rice, Juwan Howard, Shawn Bradley and more were frequent visitors. Go figure. The greatest player in the game training with fellow NBA players.
Sure, there’s always the possibility Jordan not only wanted Miller and company there to provide the best competition possible. There’s also the chance he desired some sort of mental advantage over them, sorts of like a rattlesnake coaxing whatever animal’s dumb enough to fall for its entrapment. Whatever the case, the “Jordan Dome” worked to like a charm.
Then-rookie Tyus Edny noted, “I had never played with him before. “One time he went to the basket, and it looked like he just wanted to see how long he could hang in the air. I shook my head.” He added muscle and recovered his verticality, albeit nothing like his 1988 dunk contest form.
What happens next has gone down in basketball history. The Bulls only lost 10 games the entire 1995-96 regular season. The same regular season where Michael Jordan took home his fourth MVP trophy, Dennis Rodman led in rebounding and Chicago not only had the top scoring offense, but a top two rank in scoring defense. They met those same Magic again in the 1996 East Finals, swept them and effectively signed the divorce papers for Shaq and Penny. One round later, Chicago beat Gary Payton, Shawn Kemp and the Seattle Supersonics to claim their fourth title in six years.**
He’d proven he was once again the best player in the world. He took that title away from Hakeem, a mission best believe he made a personal vendetta. It was a full-circle moment for Michael Jordan if there ever was one. And one that all started from looking in the mirror and realizing the only way he’d renew the respect and fear of his peers was through dedication.
Speaking of Dedication…
That brings us to Lil Wayne. Digest these three facts.
1. Weezy’s popularity remains in tact. Sort of. His voice continues to dominate radios from Boston to Seattle. His tours still do well. His albums still move off the shelves. That said, and even he knows this to an extent, he hasn’t had the ear of the crowd who once swore by him six or seven years ago in quite some time.
2. The last undeniable great project from Tune was 2009’s No Ceilings. Sure, there’ve been moments, but never a truly cohesive project that made you excited to be a Wayne fan. I’d even go as far to say his “Hustle Hard (Remix)” verse is the best thing he’s rapped since stepping out of Rikers three years ago. But yes, Weezy’s gone nearly the length of a presidential term between great projects.
3. Drake’s best the best rapper on Cash Money since 2010.
In somewhat similar fashion to Jordan following the ’94-95 season, Wayne’s tweet was telling to an extent. There was a time when rap needed Lil Wayne. That period where from a commercial, technical and entertainment perspective Weezy stood perhaps in a class of his own. Contrary to what any detractor would claim in 2013, there was once an environment when Cita’s son could rap alongside anyone and would consistently hold his own. Now award shows feel a night without Lil Wayne is worth the risk. And someone like Kendrick Lamar fails to mention him in his “verse that shook up Hip-Hop.”
Perhaps Weezy needs his version of the “Jordan Dome.” One filled with the finest strands of marijuana. One with SportsCenter on repeat. One that doesn’t have him rapping about oral sex every four bars. One with somehow a running slideshow of comments claiming how he “fell off” and that he’d do everyone a favor by “just stop rapping.” Motivation is key and if Wayne still is the competitor he labelled himself as “the best rapper alive,” maybe it works.
A loose comparison, indeed, the main connection between the two pop culture deities stands the moment Jordan and Wayne both realized their creative mortality in a sense. Getting by on strictly name and God-given gifts had run its course. To preserve whatever legacy they both yearned, their respective, much-fabled work ethics and knowledge of the game would be needed to assume control.
The big difference is, how Jordan’s story penned itself has since grown to unapproachable levels of worship (both fairly and unfairly). Wayne’s, well, we’re sitting that theater now. Some left before the credits began to roll. Some never bought tickets to begin with. Some, like myself, hold on to whatever string of hope that history rewrites itself for him once again.
Here’s to hoping Dedication 5 is the best one since 2. But I’m not holding my breath either.
* – Numbers fail to recount the entire story, but a “rusty” Jordan still managed to post 31 points/game in said series on 47.6% shooting to go along with 6.5 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 84.7% from the charity stripe.
** – Want to really piss a post-Magic and Bird basketball fan off? Tell them this Bulls squad isn’t the best team ever.