Should We “Be Like Mike?”

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Many of you watched the ten-part ESPN documentary, “The Last Dance.” It covered the career of Michael Jordan and his six championship runs with the Chicago Bulls in the 1990s.

I was riveted to the television set for the last eight episodes. It was a nostalgic trip down memory lane for me. I was dating Joy during the first three Bulls championships, so we watched a lot of those games together. (We got married in 1994). We lived in Deerfield, Illinois, a few miles away from the Berto Center, the Bulls practice facility. We saw the Bulls everywhere in those days. They were part of the community. Between 1989 and 1993:

  • I said hello to Phil Jackson one day while he was pumping gas at a local station. I remember being surprised at just how lanky he was.
  • I noticed B.J. Armstrong curled-up with a book in the back of an aisle at the Deerfield Border’s Books on Waukegan Road. I didn’t want to bother him. There was a reason he was hiding back there.
  • On more than one occasion I pulled-up alongside Scottie Pippen’s red Porsche at a traffic light.
  • I knew where Michael Jordan lived before he moved to his Highland Park mansion. (He owned a house in a development across the street from the Northbrook Court Mall). We drove by the house once and Jordan opened his garage door just as we slowly passed by. He gave us a look of disgust. This is a true story.  Joy and my father-in-law, a retired Evangelical Free Church minister, can confirm it. 🙂
  • I went to the same gym as Bill Cartwright and would often shoot at another basket while he taught his son how to play. (Again, I didn’t want to bother him with a challenge to play one-on-one). I can attest to the fact that he taught his son how to shoot free-throws like a normal person.
  • If I remember correctly, I was present at one of the last games in old Chicago Stadium. I have a concrete piece of the stadium from the standing-room-only area to prove it.

I grew-up a long-suffering New Jersey Nets fan. I never liked the Bulls. I rooted against them during every playoff run. My good friend Vince Bacote, now a theology professor at Wheaton College, can attest to this. I was the guy who would go to a Bulls watch party and cheer for the Pistons in 1991 (I rooted for the Bulls in the NBA finals that year because I didn’t like the Lakers either), the Trail Blazers in 1992, and the Knicks and Suns in 1993. (I moved to New York for the last three titles, so it was easier to pull for the Pacers, Knicks, Sonics, and Jazz).

Charles Camosy, a theology professor at Fordham University and the author of the “Purple Catholicism” column at Religion News Service, shared my dislike of Jordan and the Bulls. Like me, Camosy loved to watch Jordan play, but had his heart broken by “His Airness” too many times.

In his most recent column, Camosy wonders if people of faith should strive to “be like Mike.”  Here is a taste:

Jordan’s nastiness first came out in the book “The Jordan Rules” by Bulls beat writer Sam Smith, but the ESPN documentary makes it clear as well: Many of Jordan’s teammates lived in abject fear of what he would do to them if he became displeased.

Steve Kerr said he was “scared to death” of Jordan — which is not surprising given that Jordan once punched Kerr in the face (and was kicked out of practice for it by Bulls head coach Phil Jackson).

Will Perdue said, “He was an a–hole, he was a jerk, he crossed the line numerous times.” In “The Last Dance,” we see footage of Jordan hounding and bullying younger players like Scott Burrell.

Perhaps the person he got on the most, however, was Horace Grant. Grant has been aggressively critical of “The Last Dance,” arguing that it is more like a piece of Jordan propaganda than a truly objective, journalistic documentary.

And who can blame him? Smith revealed in “The Jordan Rules” that, among other things, MJ would refuse to let the stewards on their private flights even give Grant his meals if he felt like the Bulls forward had had a poor game.

This not only reveals the power Jordan had within the organization, but the cruelty with which he could wield such power. When confronted with these kinds of negative responses from former teammates, Jordan’s response was, “Winning has a price.”

Indeed. And as the tears welled up during that part of the interview, Jordan was evidently confronting that price. The price of becoming the greatest of all time, the GOAT, in the game of basketball. 

Here one may be reminded of the wisdom of St. Paul in 1 Corinthians Chapter 13, when Paul claims that you can have everything that the world values — but if you don’t have love, you actually have nothing at all. If Michael Jordan had to give up on treating his teammates with love in order to win, then, at least from a Christian standpoint, his winning meant nothing.

Sports journalists often point to the careers of great athletes who didn’t win a championship and call their greatness into question by asking, “Where are the rings?” Christians, by contrast, must look at the careers of great athletes and ask, “Where is the love?”

Read the entire piece here.