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Up in the air, with Michael Jordan: a tribute

"There was only one man that could stop Michael Jordan, and that man was Michael Jordan."

“There was only one man that could stop Michael Jordan, and that man was Michael Jordan.”

There are days when I feel bad; not for me, but for kids these days, who have really bad cartoons to tune into. It’s funny how even though we’re so technologically advanced in the 21st century, the cartoons from the 50’s and 60’s were definitely better.

I’m a 90’s kid and I’m glad. Not only did I watch the original Cartoon Network with Swat Kats and Dexter’s Laboratory, I grew up watching Michael Jordan; studying his every move. So much so, that even today I intentionally stick my tongue out on the occasional drive to the basket. Or shrug my shoulders after a pull-up J.

Jordan turns 50 this Sunday, 17th February, and fittingly enough, that is the day of the All-Star Game. I was three years old when he won the ‘three-peat’ in 1993; too young to comprehend the gravity of the achievement.

But when he rejoined the Chicago Bulls after his initial retirement in 1995, I was hooked. Slapping the ball with my tiny hands across the living room, I constantly reminded my brother that a season of sports was way more interesting than that of duck or ‘wabbit’ season; Elmer Fudd anyone?

INGLEWOOD, CA - JUNE 12: Guard Michael Jordan #23 of the Chicago Bulls sits nexts to his wife Juanita and his dad James while hugging the NBA Championship Trophy after the Bulls defeated the Los Angeles Lakers 4-1 after Game 5 of the NBA Finals on June 12, 1991 at the Great Western Forum in Inglewood, California.

Michael Jordan of the Chicago Bulls hugs the NBA Championship Trophy after they defeated the Los Angeles Lakers 4-1 (best of seven) in the NBA Finals on June 12, 1991.

Don’t get me wrong, I still prefer a rare re-run of Tom & Jerry to the boring soaps our TV channels have to offer. By the time Jordan led the Bulls to three additional rings (1996-98), I was trying my hand at his signature moves that made his game a performance art – the outrageous hand switch in mid-air and that crazy crossover before countless buzzer-beaters – embarrassingly failing to master either.

Be it sideways from the baseline or a reverse double-pump, all I wished for growing up was to dunk. But like every Jordan fanboy, I wanted to take off from the charity stripe and fly. ‘Sir Altitude’ was my inspiration.

So as you would expect, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a Space Jam DVD. It had two of the best things a kid could ask for: his sports idol and the Looney Tunes, together in a live-action/animated sports comedy. I was still too childish to be enticed by the opposite sex then, as I was terrified of the cooties.

As much as I hated the ending, the film did teach me a thing or two. It taught me that whenever I stepped out on court, I should give it a 110% and never give up. And that’s extremely reminiscent of Jordan’s career, all the way from high school to the big league.

Testament to that is what he once famously said, “I can accept failure. Everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.” It’s what keeps me going even today. Moreover, it’s what I want tattooed, so that I know never to give up when the going gets tough for the rest of my life. Clichéd but it’s truly what works best.

Whether in speeches or for an ad promotion, Jordan has always been full of fanciful quotes. From how the game is his wife to how he’s failed over and over again to succeed. And that’s what I like best about him. The man stood for what he spoke for and never backed down; he was determined to prove you wrong. If you said he couldn’t do it – like they did in high school – it only motivated him to do better. And it motivated me.

Before every college game, I watched him galvanize the already exceptional Bulls line-up of Scotty Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Steve Kerr and Toni Kukoc, just to calm my nerves. Back in school, I wanted my first jersey to have the numbers 23 printed on its back. But as we could pick only from numbers 4-15, I chose 8, inspired by a certain prodigy, earmarked to be the greatest ever of his generation.

Kobe Bryant, nurtured by the same coach as Jordan – Phil ‘Zen Master’ Jackson – has come close, leading the LA Lakers to five titles, one shy of Jordan’s six rings. But there is only one MJ23. And Basketball 101 tells you that it’s never fair to compare one great with another.

Michael Jordan (Washington Wizards) #23 of the Eastern Conference All-Stars jokes with Kobe Bryant (Los Angeles Lakers) #8 of the Western Conference All-Stars during the 2003 NBA All-Star Game on February 9, 2003 at Philips Arena in Atlanta, Georgia.

Michael Jordan (Washington Wizards) #23 of the Eastern Conference jokes with Kobe Bryant (LA Lakers) #8 of the Western Conference  during the 2003 NBA All-Star Game.

Then again, it’s hard not to when they share so many similarities. Brilliant on both ends of the court, they are players a coach can trust in a clutch situation for their never-say-die-attitude. Not far behind is LeBron James – another high-school phenomenon.

James is the most complete player in NBA today. The closest we’ve seen to Jordan and a legend in his own right, in his own era. It’s not as though Jordan was never compared to a great. There is and always will be debate about how Bill Russell is the greatest of them all for winning 11 Championships in 13 seasons with the Boston Celtics.

But I never got to see Russell play, sadly. I watched in awe as Jordan took game-winning buzzer-beater after buzzer-beater and just shrugged his shoulders. Even at the age of 40, when he chose to come out of retirement for the third time with the Washington Wizards, he made it look so easy, averaging 20 points and 37 minutes per game.

Jordan was the world’s first global superstar; even before David Beckham. In 2001, he donated two years of his salary to help the children who lost their parents at the Sept. 11 terrorist attack. Jordan wasn’t cocky, he earned his arrogance; but he strived to be genuinely different.

Every time the owner of the Charlotte Bobcats – the team with the worst record in the NBA – shows up at practice to give them an idea about how it’s done, you can’t help but wonder, ‘can he really be tempted to lace up his Air Jordans one last time?’

Lakers forward Antawn Jamison glorified the constant jibber-jabber when he said Jordan could cut it at 50 with the big boys. Jordan himself raised the possibility at the end of his 2009 Hall of Fame induction speech when he said, “Oh, don’t laugh. Never say never. Because limits, like fears, are often just an illusion.”

We all know Jordan can still get up high and throw it down even today courtesy Jay Leno’s stupid question on his primetime show.

But could he still make some important contributions running the floor? I’m not quite so sure. I don’t want Mike to go looking for his lucky shorts from North Carolina and return to the big time. That’s probably because comebacks are overrated. Just ask the other famous Michael – F1’s 7-time champion, Schumacher.

I may have never got the chance to jump out of a courtside chair while he played, but I’ll happily live with the memories of ‘His Airness’ soaring through the sky. That’s exactly why I feel bad on certain days; not for me, but for kids these days that don’t even have those memories.

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