Michael Jordan dunk

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


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.

Wesley Matthews receives standing ovation in return to Portland (VIDEO)

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Last month, LaMarcus Aldridge returned to Portland for the first time as a member of the Spurs, and the reception was decidedly mixed. That wasn’t the case on Tuesday night, when the Mavericks made their first trip to the Moda Center since Wesley Matthews signed a four-year, $70 million deal in Dallas in July. Matthews was beloved in Portland, and there’s a chance he and Aldridge would both still in town if Matthews hadn’t torn his Achilles in March, effectively ending their chances of contending.

76ers top Lakers for 1st win of season, snap 28-game skid

Robert Covington
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PHILADELPHIA (AP) Kobe Bryant won over the fans – he just couldn’t beat the previously winless Philadelphia 76ers.

With the spotlight on Bryant during the final game of his career in his hometown, the Sixers stole the show and defeated the Los Angeles Lakers 103-91 on Tuesday night for their first victory of the season.

The Sixers had lost their first 18 games, and 28 overall dating to last season – the longest losing streak in the history of major professional sports in the United States. But they remained tied for the worst start in NBA history with the 2009-10 New Jersey Nets, who also opened 0-18.

It was the first win for the Sixers since March 25 at Denver.

Hours earlier, Bryant felt the love in Philadelphia as soon as he entered the arena.

He took selfies with fans who might never see him play again, and his presence injected a playoff atmosphere into a city that has lost much of its interest in NBA basketball.

With a packed crowd standing and roaring in appreciation, Bryant was introduced to an ovation worthy of a hometown hero, not the “Hometown Zero” he was once labeled in Philadelphia’s tabloids.

Bryant, who will end his 20-year career this season, opened the first leg of his farewell tour in his hometown and was feted with the kind of reverence and gratitude normally reserved for a Sixers great.

He buried a step-back 3-pointer off the opening tip.

He hit another 3 on the next possession.

Bryant made it 3 for 3 and had the Philly crowd chanting “M-V-P!” as he turned back the clock to his championship form. He scored 20 points on 7-of-26 shooting and made four 3s.

By the fourth quarter, the Philly fans had turned their attention toward the home team, chanting “Beat LA!” when beleaguered rookie Jahlil Okafor made a layup for a 94-80 lead.

Okafor, the No. 3 overall pick out of Duke, has been attached to a string of off-court incidents that included reckless driving and a fight in Boston. He has apologized for his recent decisions. Sixers coach Brett Brown said Okafor will likely soon be accompanied by team security on public outings.

Bryant said he would simply tell the 19-year-old rookie to stay focused on basketball.

The Sixers stayed focused and finally finished the job after taking an 80-75 lead into the fourth.

The 76ers had led after three quarters three other times this season: Nov. 21 at Miami (led 74-67, lost 96-91), Nov. 25 at Boston (led 62-57, lost 84-80) and Nov. 29 at Memphis (led 67-64, lost 92-84), according to STATS.

Robert Covington scored 23 points and Jerami Grant had 14 for the Sixers.

The win belonged to Philadelphia. The night belonged to Bryant.

His homecoming game came with a rare emotional tug for the player fans loved to boo through the years. He waved to the crowd and bowed his head in appreciation as a “Kobe! Kobe! Kobe!’ chant filled Wells Fargo Center during pregame introductions.

He was greeted at midcourt by his Lower Merion high school coach Gregg Downer and 76ers great Julius Erving. Bryant hugged both in front of a crowd filled with purple-and-gold No. 24 jerseys.

He smiled after every shot and bantered with fans, some who made “Thank you, Kobe” signs.

In a reference to the sorry state of the entire Philly sports scene, one fan held a sign that read, “Why Can’t Chip Kelly Retire Instead.”

Bryant even smirked in the third when a brief scuffle broke out among Lakers center Roy Hibbert, who appeared to push a referee, and Philadelphia’s Isaiah Canaan and JaKarr Sampson. All three were hit with technical fouls.

Bryant thumped his chest, waved to the fans, blew a kiss and was serenaded with “Kobe!” chants as he walked off Philadelphia’s court for the final time.


Lakers: Los Angeles is 2-15 and has the worst record in the Western Conference. … The Lakers opened an eight-game road trip.

Sixers: Moses Malone, the late 76ers star selected one of the NBA’s 50 greatest players, was honored at halftime. Malone, who died in September at 60, was the NBA Finals MVP in 1983 when he led the Sixers to the title. His No. 2 was on the back of Philadelphia’s warmup jerseys with “Chairman of the Boards” on the front. The Sixers will retire his number next season. … F Nerlens Noel returned to the lineup after a two-game absence with sore knees. He scored 14 points.


Lakers: At the Washington Wizards on Wednesday night.

Sixers: At the New York Knicks on Wednesday night.

John Wall drops J.R. Smith with crossover, makes layup (VIDEO)

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John Wall is one of the hardest players to guard in the NBA. J.R. Smith found that out the hard way on Tuesday night when Wall sent him flying with a behind-the-back dribble before making an easy layup.

The Wizards beat the Cavs, who are now 13-5 on the season.

Sixers to retire Moses Malone’s number next season

Darryl Dawkins, Moses Malone

Kobe Bryant‘s pregame tribute video stole the show in Philadelphia, but Tuesday night was Moses Malone tribute night. The former league MVP and Hall of Famer passed away in September, and his legacy was honored by the Sixers during a halftime ceremony. During the festivities, Malone’s son announced that his No. 2 will be retired by the organization next season.

There’s no question that Malone, one of the greatest players in the history of the sport, deserves to have his number retired. The only relevant question is: why didn’t this happen years ago? The ceremony next season should be good, but it would have been better if they had done it when Malone was alive to participate in it. No Sixers player has worn No. 2 since Malone anyway, but it’s been over 20 years since he last wore a Sixers jersey. Why couldn’t they have found some time in those two decades to have a ceremony and hang a banner?