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.

James Harden’s 27 help Rockets sail past Pelicans 114-91

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HOUSTON (AP) — James Harden scored 27 points in three quarters and the Houston Rockets routed the New Orleans Pelicans 114-91 on Saturday night for their eighth straight victory.

The NBA-leading Rockets improved to 59-14 to overtake the 1993-94 championship team for the most wins in franchise history.

Houston never trailed and already had a huge lead to start the fourth before scoring seven straight points early in the period to make it 92-63 with 10 minutes remaining. Clint Capela had four points and a steal to lead Houston in that stretch. Capela finished with 18 points, 16 rebounds, three steals and tied a career high with six blocks.

The Pelicans, who were playing their fifth game in seven days, finally ran out of gas, and looked worn out from the start. Entering Saturday’s game they had played on three consecutive nights from Tuesday-Thursday because of a rescheduled game and won all of them to extend their winning streak to four in a row.

Anthony Davis, who also sat out the fourth quarter with the game out of reach, led New Orleans with 25 points and had eight rebounds and four blocks.

Eric Gordon added 19 points for the Rockets on a night Chris Paul missed his second straight game because of a sore left hamstring.

Houston led by 27 entering the third quarter after a first half where Harden scored 18. The Pelicans opened the second half with an 11-2 run, with six points from Davis, to get within 66-48 with about eight minutes left.

There was a scuffle soon after that when Gordon and E'Twaun Moore got tangled up and Moore gave Gordon a two-handed shove in the back. The two players lunged at each other and had to be separated, but order was quickly restored and Moore was given a personal foul and a technical foul.

Gordon made the free throw on the technical and Harden added a basket soon after that, but it didn’t end Houston’s struggles in the quarter.

Harden had three turnovers over the next two minutes and another possession ended because the shot clock ran out. New Orleans scored four more points in that stretch to cut the lead to 69-52.

A 3-pointer by Ryan Anderson ended a more than three-minute scoring drought for Houston after that but New Orleans scored the next six points to whittle the deficit to 72-58 with about three minutes left in the quarter.

The Rockets got going near the end of the quarter and 3-pointers by Joe Johnson and Gerald Green left them up 83-61 entering the fourth quarter.

Houston was up 64-37 at halftime.


Ben Simmons with 10th triple-double of season: 15 points, 13 assists, 12 rebounds

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Most impressive part of this one? Ben Simmons racked up this triple-double in three quarters.

The Sixers impressive rookie put together his 10th triple-double of the season — 15 points, 13 assists, 12 rebounds — Saturday to help lead Philadelphia past Minnesota, 120-108 (the Sixers sixth straight win). Simmons was attacking all night, not taking a single shot outside the paint and shooting 5-of-9. On those drives, he was able to make some dishes for assists, too.

Simmons has averaged a triple-double over the last seven games, and he has the second most triple-doubles ever by a rookie (Oscar Robertson more than doubled Simmons output).

I don’t know if Simmons or Utah’s Donovan Mitchell is going to win Rookie of the Year (both are deserving), but nights like this and numbers like this certainly help Simmons’ case.

Kevin Durant on Warriors injuries: “There’s nothing to worry about”


Stephen Curry is out for the rest of the regular season and likely will miss at least the start of the playoffs with a sprained MCL in his left knee. His starting backcourt mate Klay Thompson is out for at least another week, maybe more, with a fractured thumb. Kevin Durant should return this week from his fractured ribs. Draymond Green missed time with a hip contusion but will return to the lineup this week.

The injuries have piled up on the Warriors, and while only Curry’s is expected to bleed over into the postseason, the question remains, should Warriors fans be worried?

Kevin Durant took a page from the Aaron Rodgers “relax” book and told Warriors fans to chill, speaking to Chris Haynes of ESPN.

“S— ain’t perfect when you’re living life,” Durant said. “There’s going to be ebbs and flows. I know since this whole Warriors [dynasty] started, it’s been pretty nice. There’s nothing to worry about. We’re all living life good. We’re playing in the NBA. We got a couple ankle tweaks, we got a few rib injuries, a couple of guys got kicked in the groin, a little fractured thumb. Nobody is dealing with anything life-threatening…

“Steph is going to work his tail off to get back no matter what it is, and we’re all going to support him and we’re going to be there for him. We’re going to hold this s— down.”

Durant is right. First, in the grand scheme of world problems, Curry’s knee is not a big one. Secondly, the Warriors have had a fairly fortunate and magical run the past few years, and by the start of the playoffs the Warriors should have most of the team healthy and rested.

The Warriors likely can get through the first two rounds without Curry, so long as Durant, Green, Thompson, as well as Iguodala and Livingston are healthy. A potential second-round matchup with Portland would be a challenge, but the Warriors would still deserve favorite status in that one.

Against Houston in a potential Western Conference Finals matchup, Golden State will need a healthy. Curry should be back by then, but with the Warriors injury luck lately it’s something to watch.

Stephen Curry out at least three weeks with Grade 2 MCL sprain


The Warriors will have to go the rest of the season and probably the start the playoffs without the guy their offense is built around.

Stephen Curry will be out at least three weeks after suffering a Grade 2 MCL sprain Friday night when JaVale McGee accidentally fell into his knee, the team announced Saturday. It’s about as good of news as could have been hoped for, considering the injury and the timing, that said the team will “re-evaluate” Curry in three weeks, and Grade 2 MCL’s often take a month or more to fully heal.

The playoffs begin in exactly three weeks. Curry could be back around the start of those games or, more likely, will miss part of the postseason depending upon how his recovery goes. The Warriors are essentially locked in as the two seed right now, but in a jumbled West it’s unclear who they will play in the first round and what matchup challenges that presents. The Warriors should be much healthier by then, they will get Draymond Green back from his hip injury on Sunday vs. the Jazz. Kevin Durant is expected later next week. Klay Thompson will be a little after that, but before the playoffs.

Curry, however, is the fuel that turns the Warriors offense into something elite. Curry is averaging 26.3 points and 6.2 assists per game, shooting 42.4 percent from three this season. The Warriors offense is 14 points per 100 possessions better this season when Curry is on the court.