“He is pure competition. He does not fear the end of his dominance, being drilled into retirement by guys who wouldn’t have been able to touch him when he was beautiful, at his best. Those fears are for the people who love him, who love watching him, who hurt when he fails. They are not for the fighter.” – Howard Bryant on Mariano Rivera
Michael Jordan turns 50 this week, and the quote could have applied to his final chapter in Washington, or an appearance at this weekend’s All-Star game. Only the embodiment of pure competition could be drawn back to the game after the iconic game-winner against Utah in 1998. There is no off switch, just an expiration date.
Jordan is the dominant athlete of my generation. The reference point. The measuring stick. There is no debate. Six titles. Six finals MVP’s. Two Gold Medals. One NCAA title. Images and anecdotes that will live in perpituity. They will all be recounted this weekend and on wikipedia.
The generational distinction is contemporaneously palpable. The unmistakable shift in the balance of power during the 91 finals against a proud, but aging Lakers team. With every game, it became more apparent that Jordan was so far and away the best player that you began to feel sympathy for the Lakers. The blend of anticipation and inevitability of Jordan facing the Knicks, who had become tragically obsessed with beating the Bulls, but ultimately incapabable. The realization that Jordan would single-handedly prevent Orlando from feeding the post in the 96 playoffs.
The signature Jordan move being the public humiliation of any deemed MVP of the league