There was a period when Michael Jordan played for the Chicago Bulls and people didn’t consider him the greatest of all time. It was over 25 years ago, but it happened, and it’s important we call attention to it. Contemporary fanatics in the pace-and-space NBA era often use shooting efficiency as a marker for offensive greatness. They malign those poor perimeter players who aren’t endowed with accuracy beyond 23 feet. The biggest argument in favor of choosing Kobe Bryant during any barroom debate comparing him to his idol, Michael Jordan, is that Kobe was a better shooter from deep. And he was. But early Michael Jordan, who single-handedly brought his Bulls into the playoffs every year during the mid- and late-’80s, was like if the trio of Russell Westbrook, “Vinsanity” Vince Carter, and early Monta Ellis were thrown together in a drink garnished with PEDs. That’s hyperbole, of course, but not as much as you might think.
Yago Colas touches on this pre-GOAT Michael Jordan in his book, Ball Don’t Lie: Myth, Genealogy and Invention in the Cultures of Basketball. We’re going to do a much longer post on his book because it might be the most important piece of non-fiction basketball literature since David Halberstam was following around the Bill Walton Blazers, but for now we’ll just touch on a section from Chapter six: “The Myth of the Greatest of All Time.”
In that chapter, Colas talks about the media creation of Michael Jordan as the GOAT and how his career arc so comfortably slid into the bildungsroman storyline. We don’t want to get into too much detail, but the early MJ part is germane to what we’re talking about today.
Yago is a professor and he showed the below video to his students before they were going to talk about MJ in his Cultures of Basketball course. Here’s the video:
Here’s how he describes showing the video to his students:
I felt like I was at a fireworks show. As we watched, each of us in our own private world, we emerged periodically, briefly, to exchange a collective “ooh.” It was as if we were staging a skit about the birth of language and society. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that in these sporadic, exchanged exhalations we were spontaneously living a moment like the ones from which language first emerged. After flipping on the lights, we adjusted our eyes and minds and eased our way out of entertainment and into analysis.