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How Michael Jordan altered what we expect from every athlete who followed him

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There were fierce competitors in the NBA long before Michael Jordan ever stepped on a court. Go watch an interview with Bill Russell talking about how he hated to lose read about Jerry West and how big losses would make him physically ill.

But no player in any sport has had an ultra-competitiveness fused with his image like Michael Jordan.

Jordan wanted to win — and he wanted it publically at a time when the media focus on the NBA boomed and the league grew to wild new heights of popularity. Riding a wave of winning titles plus being the face of a then unprecedented Nike branding campaign, Jordan’s persona grew to larger than life levels. It grew and has lasted to the point that we as a sports nation are talking about his legacy as he turns 50 this weekend.

After Jordan, every athlete in virtually every sport — from LeBron James to Tiger Woods to Andrew Luck — gets compared to the Jordan standard. How committed are they to winning? How badly do they want it? Fair or not, Jordan made the mold we expect all athletes to fit.

Roland Lazenby, the author of “Blood On The Horns, The Long Strange Ride of Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls” (which is being re-released right now by Diversion Books as an ebook edition in honor of Jordan’s birthday) and also the author of a new Jordan biography due out in the spring of 2014 (by Little, Brown), said Jordan was a perfect storm of the player, the personality and timing.

“As a culture, we’ve always recognized and admired people who care about things on a deeper level,” Lazenby told ProBasketballTalk. “In sports, that was why Jerry West attracted so many admirers, despite the fact that his Lakers lost six times to Bill Russell’s Boston Celtics teams in the championship. The idea was that West’s desire to win was almost a holy thing.

“Jordan resonated that and then made it so much bigger because his audience was so much larger. He literally came from nowhere to capture the public’s fancy, first with his ability to fly, then as time went on he was revealed as a competitor who cared on a deeper level than just about all of those around him. That commitment, combined with his theatrical and athletic style, created millions of new fans globally.”

Jordan’s legacy of fierceness becomes enshrined in games like “the flu game” where nothing could stop him from performing. We as fans often seem to care more about the team and a game’s outcome than the players — we want the guys who care like we do and will show that on the court. Jordan did.

“His willingness to play through injury and pain, like West before him and later Kobe Bryant, evidenced this higher level of caring. It meant more to them, so it meant more to us,” Lazenby said.

Jordan told Lazenby that timing was everything, and so it was with his career. In the 1970s NBA finals games were taped delayed and shown after midnight. The rivalry of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird changed that — compelling teams and compelling players that demanded and created a larger, prime time audience for the NBA.

Which served as a launching pad for Jordan.

“With Jordan, the audience was so much larger than what West or Oscar Robertson experienced,” Lazenby said. “Jordan was able to articulate that standard with the way he played.

“So the conversation for the greatest players begins in many ways with, how deeply do they care? How much are they willing to sacrifice? If it’s not immensely important, insanely important, to the star, how can it be that important to teammates and fans?

“As a culture, we marvel at that insanely excessive level of commitment, whatever the sport or endeavor. Basketball is such an emotional game. It attracts the sort of genius defined by physical ability and an unparalleled competitive will.”

Nobody ever combined physical ability and competitive will like Jordan.

With him he changed not just how we perceive basketball players but how fans perceive athletes in every sport. We look at Robert Griffin III and the first thing we fans ask is how deeply does he care? And if you fail to live up to that standard of passion and commitment — we’re looking at you, Dwight Howard — fans’ wrath ensues.

It was Jordan who changed all of that. That is just part of his legacy.

Sixers’ No. 1 pick Ben Simmons suffers fracture in right foot, will miss time

TARRYTOWN, NEW YORK - AUGUST 07:  Ben Simmons of the Philadelphia 76ers poses for a portrait during the 2016 NBA Rookie Photoshoot at Madison Square Garden Training Center on August 7, 2016 in Tarrytown, New York. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
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The Sixers cannot catch a break. Or, to be more accurate, they are catching too many.

After center Joel Embiid is finally set to take the court after missing the past two seasons with a foot injury, now Ben Simmons — the recent No. 1 pick and point forward who had created a lot or buzz — has suffered a fracture to his right foot, the team has announced. Simmons will miss time, exactly how much depends on the course of treatment, but with this injury the shortest recovery time is 6-8 weeks.

From the Sixers official press release:

After receiving an X-ray and MRI of the foot and ankle, the images were reviewed by Sixers Head Physician Dr. Christopher Dodson and Sixers Chief Medical Officer and Co-Chief of Sports Medicine Orthopedics at New York’s Mount Sinai Medical Center Dr. Jonathan Glashow. 

It was determined that Simmons suffered a fracture of the fifth metatarsal bone of his right foot.  Further medical evaluation and treatment options are being considered at this time and additional updates will be provided when appropriate. 

The first reports out of practice were Simmons had rolled his ankle. Clearly it was much more than that.

The injury is commonly known as a Jones Fracture, which is what Kevin Durant suffered a couple years back and has hit a number of NBA players in recent years (Cameron Payne, Jodie Meeks and others). The fifth metatarsal is the bone that runs from the base of the little toe up to the ankle on the foot. Even in a serious case surgery can repair it, however, healing can be slow because that is not an area of the foot with great natural blood flow. The Sixers and Simmons have to be patient so this doesn’t become a lingering issue (remember Durant needed multiple surgeries and missed a lot of time).

This just sucks for the Sixers, who see Simmons as the playmaker at the core of their young roster — one they hoped to have fully on the court this season. Now that will at least be delayed a while.

 

Kevin Love says there will always be stories about his fit with Cavs, he doesn’t care

Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love gets photographed during the NBA basketball team's media day, Monday, Sept. 26, 2016, in Independence, Ohio. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)
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If anyone in the NBA should have a thick skin when it comes to talk of player conflicts and trade rumors, it should be Kevin Love. Those stories have been like a cartoon cloud following his every step since he landed in Cleveland.

And he doesn’t give a… you know.

The Cavaliers just won a title with Love playing a key role, and yet the cloud still follows him. Love was asked about the stories of his fit with his team after practice Friday (video below, if you’re easily offended by language don’t hit play).

“I love this team. There will always be stories. I don’t think they’ll ever leave. Frankly, I don’t really give a s—.”

It’s amazing what winning can do. If the Cavaliers had not come back from 3-1 down in the Finals, the consensus around the league was that Cleveland would have made significant roster changes last summer and Love likely would have been the big name out the door. In some parallel universe that happened.

But not in this one — Love has a ring. And he’s still a Cavalier. And he doesn’t care what his critics think of that.

Chris Bosh: “I guess my career in Miami is done. My career is not done.”

WESTWOOD, CA - JULY 14:  NBA player Chris Bosh attends the Nickelodeon Kids' Choice Sports Awards 2016 at UCLA's Pauley Pavilion on July 14, 2016 in Westwood, California.  (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)
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Pat Riley has said he is not working to bring Chris Bosh back to the Miami Heat roster. After blood work with a preseason physical showed signs of the blood clotting issues that ended Bosh’s last two seasons early, the Heat will not clear him to play.

Bosh wants and intends to play.

His latest video at The Uninterrupted shows Bosh getting the news of what Riley said (at media day) and his reaction to it.

“Got the news. I was in disbelief for a couple seconds, then I threw my phone down and I stormed out the room… But I’m glad I didn’t break my phone. I wanted to break it, but I didn’t….

“I guess my career in Miami is done. My career is not done. I did not expect that at all…. That does not mean my NBA career is over. There are 29 other teams, it’s a whole league. One team does not make up the opinion of everything.”

Bosh also fired a couple shots at Riley and Heat management.

“I didn’t see my career in Miami ending like this. I didn’t get a call or a test or anything like that…

“I want to tell everyone in Miami this is not how I planned it to be. They don’t want to hear Dwyane (Wade) is gone. They don’t want to hear, ‘oh yea, Chris is never going to play for the Miami Heat again.’ People don’t want to hear that. I just feel for the fans. I wanted to give them more, I wanted to give them something better. Because they deserve better than what they’re getting right now.”

The next question is where the Bosh saga goes from here — there are no easy answers.

The Heat will look to trade Bosh, but that is a longshot. What other team is so desperate as to give up quality assets so they can take on the three-years, $75.8 million remaining on a contract of a player who may never be cleared by the league to play, and if he does play may not be able to finish seasons? Would the NBA even approve a trade if its doctors think some team is ignoring serious medical issues just to land an All-Star level player?

Can the two sides reach a buyout? Only if Bosh agrees to a ridiculously small share of the $75 million he is owed, because that money would still be on the Heat’s books. Miami would love to be able to waive Bosh then in February apply to have his salary wiped off its books. The problem there for the Heat is that if Bosh does come back and plays 25 or more games for any other team over the course of his career, that entire $75 million goes right back on the Heat books and kills their cap space.

Expect the NBA and players union to be part of whatever negotiations may take place here.

About the only things we know for sure is Bosh wants to play again, and that will not happen in Miami. That bridge has been burned.

Sixers say Ben Simmons rolls ankle in practice, turns out it was much worse than that

Philadelphia 76ers' Ben Simmons poses for a photographer during media day at the NBA basketball team's practice facility, Monday, Sept. 26, 2016, in Camden, N.J. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
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UPDATE 6:41 PM: So the rolled ankle turned out to be a cover story — Ben Simmons has a Jones Fracture in his right foot. He will miss at least the start of the season.

4:18 PM If you’ve been impatiently waiting to see No. 1 pick Ben Simmons in a Philadelphia 76ers uniform, you likely will have to wait a little longer.

Simmons rolled his ankle at practice Friday, reports Jessica Camerato of CSNPhilly.com. While not considered serious, the Sixers took Simmons in to have an MRI and get a better look at what happened. They also may rest him next week when the Sixers first take the court, reports Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Cautious is the right move by the Sixers here. Ankles, once sprained and the ligaments are stretched out, are easy to re-injure if not fully healed. The last thing the Sixers want is for this to be a running issue Simmons’ rookie season.

Sorry fans, but maybe you at least get to see Joel Embiid.