Be Like Mike


The One And Only

“Some people want it to happen, some wish it would happen, others make it happen.”

We all know the name Jordan. His surname is all that needs to be said and the listener will make the snap connection. Below are a few of his preeminent achievements as a player:

I. 6–time NBA champion with the Chicago Bulls

II. 6–time NBA Finals MVP

III. 5–time NBA regular season MVP

IV. Rookie of the Year (‘85)

V. Defensive Player of the Year (‘88)

VI. Record 30.1 ppg scoring average

VII. Space Jam ( ‘96)

His greatness has been recorded since his beginnings at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His freshman year he shot the game–winner against Georgetown to propel the Heels to the NCAA title. Both his sophomore and junior years he was All–American First Team, the latter year, taking home the Wooden and Naismith awards.

I wasn’t aware of Jordan then, however, I wasn’t alive yet either. The ‘90s was my first decade. Being that young I didn’t really care for sports — not like I do today. Nickelodeon was my constant hit.

But I knew who Jordan was. I knew who he was before my eyes beheld the brilliance that was Space Jam. Remember the “Be Like Mike” campaign?

If you do, congratulations, because I don’t (but boy does it bring back memories). That being said, I certainly remember my old Bulls coat. I loved wearing that piece whenever the cold fronts blew in. I was proud to wear it just like all these modern Warriors’ fans are proud in sporting the gold and royal blue.

I see the fascination kids have with Steph, a.k.a. the “Chef” Curry, and I think back to when my generation was enamored by Jordan.

I never watched a Bulls game. But I wanted to be like Mike. Like the above video promulgated, I think every kid wanted to be like Mike, and not just kids, adults too. His aura was inescapable, even in an era that preceded social media and incessant sports talk, his utter dominance of the sports world, and therefore, of a part of pop culture, could not be ignored.

He made no. 23 legend.

The Path To Gold

Who would ever say no to Jordan’s success if given the opportunity to choose their perks like in a video game? Too much success?

Either that person is too humble or damn insane. We don’t create to be just “average,” and to be anything less than average lies within the red zone of failure. Even the GOAT couldn’t escape that dreaded seven–letter word (hint: no one can).

Before the NBA, and before UNC, was Emsley A. Laney High School at Wilmington, North Carolina. His sophomore year he failed to make the varsity squad. For rational reasons the coaching staff kept him off the list, but Jordan saw it a bit differently. He was spun into the winds of despair. He wanted to quit, being that young, and only just beginning his ascent as the GOAT, the understanding that others had qualified over him was unbearable.

His reaction was understandable. We all have these moments in our lives where they seem to sound the end of the world, where the failure/defeat is particularly cruel. Some of us likely gave up because we couldn’t overcome it.

But people like Jordan overcome. These people became great because they simply didn’t quit. It’s cliché and overwhelmingly hackneyed, but ain’t it the truth?

It also goes to have some help along the way, which Jordan had via the love of his mother —

“She said that the best thing I could do is to prove to the coach that he had made a mistake. And, leaving my disappointment behind, I started to improve my performance.”

Thus he turned a negative into an opportunity. He set a goal. He trained harder. He showed up to practice earlier than his coach did. He didn’t have to. After all, it was just junior varsity, but in his mind, with his competitive spirit, it was paramount that he did. Failure was galling him like a fly.

Commitment was what he uncovered for his character. It exposed him to his nature: that he was determined. With that determination, not to mention some added height, the next year he made varsity and was a star. He became a High School All–American.

Fast forward to college, again, no different. He credits that winning jump shot (he made a few of these) against the Hoyas in the national title as a turning point in his career.

And I don’t doubt that, however, there is no game–winner had he decided any defeat, as insignificant as missing a high school varsity roster, was insurmountable. A challenge to believe now, what with the legacy he has left on the game, but before the success came the failure.

The Association

Jordan was the third overall pick in the 1984 NBA Draft. He did not win his first championship until seven years later in 1991. Though he made the playoffs on every year prior to that run, he was either, for the most part, swept by the Celtics or defeated by the “Bad Boy” Pistons.

Not too long ago I saw an episode of PTI [Pardon The Interruption] on ESPN. The hosts, Michael and Tony, mentioned another GOAT, Tom Brady, and how, through his still thriving career, he sought to mimic Jordan’s process. That process was the overcoming of his obstacles and failures to win, ultimately, six rings.

Both Michael and Tony appreciated that about Brady. They felt a majority of people had forgotten what Jordan had put in to realize his goals. I was guilty. I didn’t know what Jordan put in. I only knew what he got.

Once someone reaches the pinnacle of success, and when time does what it does best: goes on by, it’s easy to overlook, and eventually forget, that at one time they were just like us ordinary folk. They blended in with the rest of us.

When you’ve accomplished a litany of things, defied either logic or gravity, and set fire to the record books, it has a tendency to block out all the failures that came before. We dream of such feats in our own fields when we’re still failing.

In his first playoff series against the Milwaukee Bucks, his first season in the NBA, Jordan lost in four in the first–round. The following season he broke his foot only the third game in. Nevertheless, the Bulls made the playoffs, and so did Jordan just in time to lead the way, still, even with his presence they were swept by the Celtics in three.

For his third year in the Association Jordan scored 3,000 points, posted 200 steals and 100 blocked shots, all while averaging 37.1 ppg, the highest of his career in the regular season.

This was arguably one of his most prolific years as a player — and he didn’t even take home MVP that year (Magic did). But come postseason, despite the laudable achievements, the Celtics again were too much too stout. Another sweep, another losing season.

‘87 was the first season Jordan and the Bulls at last made it out of the first–round. Then he came up against a new obstacle: the Pistons. The opening matchup was a loss in five in the second–round. Their next bout was in the Eastern Conference Finals: a loss in six where the Pistons hammered Jordan with either a double–team, even a triple–team. The Pistons won the title that year.

Their ultimate matchup was again in the Eastern Conference Finals, with Phil Jackson as the new HC, with Pippen on the rise. Jordan and the Bulls took them to seven. But for the third straight year it was defeat by the same team. What’s more, the Pistons repeated, winning the title for a second year. It likely seemed that a dynasty had begun in the Motor City.

Experience had much to do with these defeats however. The Pistons were the more battle–tested and battle–hardened team. But even still Jordan certainly became the subject of if he could when a title, and not when. Always coming close, only to fall, has a habit of pressing doubt on celebrated players (case in point: LeBron), however, to lose continuously to one team does not help matters either.

I have no earthly idea what it’s like to lose a game seven in any sport. But if it’s what every athlete dreams of, and if it’s what every promoter loves to hype, then to find yourself on the losing end must be a bitter pill to swallow.

For the ultimate competitor there can be no forgetting. It’s an obstacle that, I imagine, can feel like it has mass: the proverbial wall that becomes physical the longer it stands.

Some athletes struggle to break this wall. The pressure to break it is a persistent little critter. But the great ones just “shrug” at this pressure. They don’t let it consume them, though others might try. They’re their game’s preeminent competitors. They understand the game they play, and most critically, what obstacles have to be conquered to dominate it.

Jordan had lost to the Pistons a third consecutive time. While the “Bad Boys” were competing against the Portland Trail Blazers for that coveted golden trophy, the regular season grind had begun anew for Jordan and the Bulls.

There was never a shortage of time to think on his failure. It must have swung like a pendulum, swinging this way, then that, striking both sides of the head. He was determined after all, and these kinds of individuals, with that kind of nature, especially don’t like the taste of defeat.

At this point it’s easy to give in — for anybody. Compare it to any obstacle, where the task becomes pressurized, because the will to want it becomes deeper, and many quit. “I put in this much already — and that still isn’t enough? I have to do more!”

Energy, and the process of expending it, is heavy. Most of us don’t want to expend our energy and especially if we must expend it aggressively.

That’s toil. We want pleasure. It doesn’t help that doubt, coming from the outside and eventually that creeps within, barks louder as well, adding in unnecessary stress. This too expends energy.

So we simply quit. No energy needed there. And we’re no stranger to this. We’ve all quit at one thing, two things, some of us could probably fill a lake with the things we’ve quit. Those New Year’s Resolutions might account for half of its volume.

But these are likely minor “offences.” Not much to give a second thought to. To quit your passion, however, most importantly, something you would want to get better at and know that you could, that’s nothing to wag a finger at or pass it up to “that’s life.” That’s a serious decision.

A determined competitor like Jordan couldn’t renounce his passion. That would have run counter to who he was as a human being.

Make no mistake, the NBA regular season, eighty–two games in all, with back–to–back games and unforgiving road schedules, is a bully. In the post–season it surely multiplies in abuse the closer one gets to the Finals. In 1990, at the front half of the year, Jordan was competing for a chance to play in the Finals, but he lost. Later within that same year he had to start over again, for a seventh time.

Why, then, would one even bother? Wouldn’t the energy be better spent in the lap of luxury? Success hasn’t been guaranteed, though failure certainly has.

Well Jordan won his first NBA championship that season. The Pistons were officially a bygone era and the dynasty that may have seemed was gone with it. Jordan broke the wall and buttoned all the lips on the haters.

He lost only once in the playoffs after that: the year he announced “I’m Back,” midway through the ‘94–‘95 season. Had he not retired before the ‘93–‘94 season it’s possible he might have won eight straight.

But that’s pure speculation. As it stands, he won six: two three–peats. Doesn’t matter that there’s another with eleven, in the eyes of plenty he became the greatest to ever play the game. He remains the standard.

The Takeaway

Athletes are exemplars of that never–quit, never–give–in, never–be–denied attitude. Sports are pretty black and white: you either win or lose. When they win, all the glory is theirs’, but when they win several times, they catapult themselves to the top of their sport. It’s any athlete’s dream. But to get to the top, of any venture, is a process, with many tangible and intangibles doing their part.

To be the best you have to have that competitive spirit. It’s the determination that comes with it.

If an athlete, such as Jordan, wasn’t determined to win, then he wouldn’t have won — not the ultimate prize anyhow, nor all the awards that came as a consequence. That’s why, after the game seven loss to the Pistons, he kept going. He was neither satisfied nor content, as a player or individual — what is one and the same — with failure.

“I’ve never been afraid to fail.”

In other words: I’ve never been afraid to learn. Failure is a humbling experience. It’s also one of the finest opportunities to learn. Jordan understood this. He wanted to be the greatest individual that he was capable of becoming.

Once he pushed his body and mind to commit to making varsity, he set himself up for that process, no longer were those failures/defeats going to conduct his will like a puppetmaster. He made that mistake once, but he got through it via an assist by his mother. He learned quickly that she was right.

It sounds straightforward enough. But that’s just it: it sounds straightforward. Actually doing it, committing to the best you are capable of, like Russell Westbrook averaging a triple–double, demands a hell of a lot from the individual.

You want to be an athlete too?

A writer?

An entrepreneur?

That’s fine. But what quality of athlete/writer/entrepreneur? That’s for you to answer. Never underestimate belief: that what you have others don’t, that with your chosen vocation you can and want to get better at, and you’re willing to do whatever it takes.

Along the way will come failure in its many mutated forms. That’s only natural. But conquer them, take what you can and learn from them, use them instead as motivational assets as Jordan had to fuel that competitive spirit. Become your own GOAT in the process.

To put it straight: Be Like Mike.

Call To Action

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