In September 2009, Michael Jordan was finally inducted into the basketball Hall of Fame, as a highly deserved first ballot no doubter. In a career spanning nearly two decades, Jordan shattered every conceivable notion we had about basketball, and about the structure of a successful team – high scoring guards were never supposed to be able to win a championship, but he proved everyone wrong. His Hall of Fame induction night was an opportunity for everyone to see the true nature of the beast, and his speech was highly anticipated.
In my eyes, it did not disappoint.
However, it was met with a backlash of criticism revolving around the brutal bitterness of Jordan’s words, in which he almost used his speech as a platform to give his past critics a huge middle finger. People decried the harshness and pettiness of a man who called out a former high school teammate who beat him for the last varsity spot, or his former team’s owner whom he purposely neglected to invite. Most everyone was shocked at the fact that a man who had accomplished so much still held so many grudges and just couldn’t let go of the defiant and stubborn attitude which propelled him to prove the haters wrong during his career – Jordan turned the night from a joyous celebration of accomplishment into a way of dangling his successes in front of his perceived detractors.
But I applaud the gall of a man who speaks his mind, and looked at his speech as a learning opportunity to really gain insight into the man who many (if not all) consider the greatest basketball player of all time. It was a great chance to understand the psyche of a competitive sportsman who couldn’t live without winning, and to appreciate the mindset which drove him from a (relatively) mediocre high school player into a 6 time world champion. Finally, finally, someone threw off the shackles of society’s expectations and told us how they really feel, not giving a damn what people’s opinions were.
In an era of press conferences which only reveal that “both teams tried hard,” it was refreshing to see a throwback speech punctuated by hate and pettiness, an exposure of the true feelings of a player, all too rare these days because of an absurd focus on finely crafted public images and personas and companies which make money solely by dictating PR. It sickens me.
After a hotly contested basketball game or in any press conference in any sport, we no longer see the true emotions of a player or a team, and instead get the too-often recycled spiel about effort and about how teamwork sparked a win. We hear about the work that was put in, how lucky they were to “pull this one out”, how great the other team is in defeat, or basically just anything that the media expects to hear – PC dribble. And it doesn’t just extend into the field or on the court, but into all realms of sports related questions – political correctness in all facets of interviews has enveloped our sports and changed a generation of sportsmen into a bland, tasteless group of figures unable to tell the world what’s really on their mind, all for the fear of losing in the public polls.
After Vick was arrested for dogfighting and now subsequently released from prison, I don’t want to hear about his new, changed attitude and generic responses to all things dog-related – how he has learned his lesson, about how he has seen the light, about how he has matured, how he is trying to raise awareness – I want to hear about what was really going on in his mind at the time of his misdeeds, not have that fact swept under the rug and disregarded as “I was just being stupid.” His political correctness has surely shifted public opinion, but really taught us nothing about what Vick was thinking or feeling. People may be satisfied with the genuine sincerity and remorse (which really seems genuine), but I’m not satisfied with his new finely tuned and coached up answers, because I just want to know Vick, from the horse’s mouth. He’s been saying the same thing 100 times.
The same goes for Roethlisberger, who, after allegations of rape, was either “no commenting” his way out of questions or pulling the “I’ll let the legal system take its due process,” as if a lawyer was whispering answers into his ears. And once he was let off scot free, he again took the “right” route in an obvious example of social coaching, with generic one liners which were vague enough to admit no guilt but also clear enough to seem as though he did something wrong. Which are great for rebuilding an image (although at this point, it’s still damaged) by developing a social game plan, but are otherwise useless. Let’s just hear some real answers, Ben.
Or in basketball, where players seem afraid to step on each other’s toes, and instead of telling us really how much Kobe is annoyed by LeBron’s anointment as the Great One, he just says that King James is indeed a wonderful basketball player, blah blah blah. Or when asked about Shaq, Kobe tells us that they’ve made up and are buddy-buddy like they’ve never been before.
Kobe might be guiltiest of all in this respect, because he just seems so damn phony with his blatant attempts to build public favor through rehearsed, politically correct answers and choreographed laughs. I just want to hear him say how much he hates LeBron’s attention, is trying to chase Jordan’s career, hates how much credit Pau gets for the championships, wants to better Shaq in every facet and rub it in his face, and actually is concerned with personal statistics. You know, the truth.
I want to hear LeBron tell us that he hurts when he returns to Cleveland to see burnt up jerseys, hear boos raining from the sky like he’s Lucifer in human form, and that the homecoming game is like no other to him. That he was nervous all the way up to tipoff and wanted to light up the Cavs, just for payback to the hate letter written by Dan Gilbert. But instead I just hear from him that the game is merely basketball and he had a great seven years there, no emotion at all.
I want to hear Tiger’s real story of deceit, without the constant praises of his wife’s courage, the somber tone, and the mechanical responses in an uber formal press conference with terms completely dictated by him. I want to hear about his real thoughts on the matter, how he really just likes women (as men usually do), how he is just a successful, rich, near-billionaire who took advantage of his opportunities (albeit not very honorable ones) and wants to be a bachelor, pick up girls all day, and live in Vegas. I want some substance, not press release answers which he memorizes or PC responses which blame his “sex addiction” for his actions.
I want to hear all of it, but I never get to, save for those few players with the testicular fortitude and guts to just stand up and tell you how they see it, no holds barred. It taints their image and paints them as villains, but they have my utmost respect for their blatant honesty and disregard for the one thing which has damaged sports most profoundly in this new generation – political correctness. The Ron Artests, the Rasheed Wallaces, the Allen Iversons, the Randy Mosses, the MJ’s, are some of the only ones who can be counted on for a real answer to a question, and for some truth. I love hearing how happy Artest was that Kobe passed him the ball in Game 7 or how he is nervous in big games, or even that he turned to drinking at his darkest hour, and I love hearing how little Allen Iverson cares about practice, or about how Moss want the damned ball.
The rest of the sports world just has to be more like Mike.