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.

When a Pro-Life Democrat Wins the African-American Vote and Defeats a Pro-Trump Candidate in Louisiana

John Bel Edwards

This weekend Louisiana’s Democratic governor John Bel Edwards was reelected.  He defeated a Trump-supported Republican named Eddie Risponse.  Trump visited Louisiana twice in the last two weeks in the hopes of getting Risponse elected.  It did not help.

It is worth noting that John Bel Edwards greatly expanded Medicaid in Louisiana.  He also signed a bill banning abortion after a heartbeat is detected.  And his victory was largely due to overwhelming support among Louisiana’s African Americans.

Over at First Things, Fordham University moral philosopher Charles Camosy offers some analysis of Edwards’s victory.  Here is a taste:

It would be interesting to know what white, progressive, highly educated Democrats think of all this. After all, they have been primarily responsible for the party’s turn to the kind of abortion extremism that would have doomed an orthodox Democrat in a race like this one. Mother Jones ran a piece a few days before the election with the headline, “Is There Still Room for an Anti-Abortion Hardliner in the Democratic Party?” The answer in the party platform—which claims that abortion should be unrestricted, that it should be paid for by pro-lifers’ tax dollars, and that it is “core to women’s, men’s, and young people’s health and wellbeing”—is obviously in the negative.

But when faced with the prospect of a Trump-supported governor, Democratic activists changed their tune. This kind of change needs to happen more generally throughout the party, especially as we head into 2020. In 2016, Trump over-performed with African Americans and Latinos—populations which tend to be more abortion-skeptical than white Democrats. For the Democrats’ progressive leadership, which at least says all the right things about listening to voices of color, the factors behind Edwards’s reelection should be highly instructive. But the party, at least as currently constituted, is light years away from permitting a pro-life Democratic candidate from running for national office.

And this:

Despite struggling in purple states like Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, there is, remarkably, increased talk of the Democrats becoming a dominant party by turning big states like Texas from red to blue. But it is nearly impossible to see how this would work given their current abortion platform—which, in addition to just being politically bananas, is made-to-order for devastating pro-life messaging.

Indeed, recent studies of pro-life political advertisements in Texas found that they had the biggest impact on—wait for it—Democratic-leaning women, young voters, and Latino voters. Such ads moved them 10, 8, and 13 points, respectively. And they had real political results—pushing Governor Abbott to a whopping 44 percent approval rating with Latinos, for instance. Is it possible that the progressive, white abortion rights activists who dominate the Democratic party leadership could be marginalized in favor of those genuinely committed to listening to black and Latino voices on abortion?

One might think that Trump’s 2016 victory, coupled with the Edwards reelection, would be enough to push the party to change course. But the bubble of coastal elites (on both right and left) is a difficult one to burst. I fear that only something totally devastating—like a 2020 Trump victory—could shake up the current leadership.

Read the entire piece here.