06/01/2020 05:00 – Updated: 06/01/2020 11:53

Bill russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Craig Hodges, Stephen Jackson, Lebron James, Stephen Curry, Jaylen Brown. This succession corresponds to some of the NBA players most involved in the racial conflict throughout the last decades, from the sixties to today. Do you notice a certain drop in quality in the activists of the eighties and nineties?

We could call it ‘The Jordan Gap‘.

Racial conflict has been present in the NBA since Bill russell —Who was denied restaurant service when he was a league star — put a note of color on the whitest Celtis of the late 1950s until this very night, when a new police abuse of the black population of the United States has made my voice rise to stars like Lebron James, Jaylen Brown, Pau Gasol or Karl Anthony-Towns, but also former players at the level of Allen Iverson, Dwayne Wade or Stephen Jackson.

The overwhelming consensus has helped Jordan, the greatest player of all time, finally open his mouth. First he limited himself, like so many other times, to retweet a Nike ad campaign. Yesterday, late at night and in the face of pressure on social networks, Jordan delved a little deeper into the defense of George Floyd. In a brief statement, Jordan showed his least seen facet, that of inclusive leader: “Our voices, united, have to pressure our leaders to change the laws or, otherwise, we will use our vote to create a change in the systemJordan writes. To put it in context, Jordan’s commitment to this cause comes a week after George Floyd’s death, and also that they had taken sides before Pau Gasol, Evan Fournier, Marcin Gortat, Meyers Leonard or Steve Kerr … they are not even black.

Jordan gets wet for the first time, in the wake of an NBA much more politicized than the one he once reigned in, thanks to the path that others have opened. The same Jordan who did not say a word about Rodney King, now speaks about George Floyd. Jordan vs. Jordan; Lebron James now marks the way forward.

The successful documentary ‘The Last Dance’, by Netflix, has brought the figure of Jordan back to the spotlight, with his great vices and enormous virtues, but he tiptoes through a key question to understand the character: its equidistance. The affair comes from afar. The player grew up in North Carolina, whose historic senator, the Republican Jesse Helms, had a long history of racist statements. In 1989 the African American Harvey Gantt He contested the position to Helms, but Jordan refused to publicly endorse his bid to become North Carolina’s first African-American senator.

Not even his mother’s pleas convinced him: according to his version, Jordan didn’t know Gantt well enough and, therefore, he could not endorse his candidacy. In this context, Jordan said privately five words that haunt him to this day: “Republicans also buy sneakers

Jordan’s overwhelming silence, fruit of the ultra-sponsored nineties, caused when Abdul-Jabbar, the highest scorer in the history of the league, wanted to pass the torch of racial activism, only found to pick it up the hand of Craig Hodges, an escort who was not a starter in any of the six teams in which he played. He had to retire at age 31, shortly after he delivered a letter to President Bush expressing his discontent with his minority policies, because no team was interested in signing him. Jordan set a new standard for behavior in the NBA: if you want to make a lot of money, close your mouth.

Jordan has been open to advertising since the beginning of his career. (Nike)Jordan has been open to advertising since the beginning of his career. (Nike)

“We can say that, just as Russell and Kareem opened the door for the rest of the black players to claim their rights, Jordan opened the door to say nothing,” he says. Quique Hairstyle, journalist specialized in basketball. “Jordan had never been very racially aware. In the documentary, he says he suffered many episodes of racism as a child, and that his answer was always the flight. He never talks about confrontation or leading a movement to protect his rights, his vital focus is on fleeing racism. “

Although now the figure of Bill Russell is remembered with admiration and deep respect, not only among black players, at the time Russell he was one of the most hated players in the league. He was booed on every court in the United States, many rivals denied him the greeting and even one night fans of his team entered his house, destroyed the furniture, filled it with racist graffiti and even defecated on his bed. While active, “Jordan was always a faint-hearted politician and social. In this regard, he ran zero risks with anything that could jeopardize his fame or fortune“says Peinado.

But perhaps Jordan’s pronouncement on George Floyd is late. Retired 20 years ago and owner of one of the NBA teams, the time to raise his voice for the 23rd was over. He had his best shot on March 6, 1991, when a local Los Angeles network released footage that would go around the world: Four city police officers bludgeoning Rodney King, a young black man accused of speeding. While I was on the ground, King received 33 club hits and 7 kicks from officers..

A year later, a jury composed mostly of whites acquitted the four policemen. This triggered racial revolts across the country that ended with 54 deaths and more than 200 wounded, which served, at least, so that the agents were re-tried and two of them were convicted. Jordan, then the world’s most famous athlete, did not say a word. “It was outrageous that Jordan didn’t say anything about Rodney King. Silence with the entire American society shocked by the images of police brutality and the riots in Los Angeles, “he says. Jacobo Rivero, a writer and former coach for the Estudiantes youth academy, “and in the NBA nobody said practically anything about this, except for players like Craig Hodges, who shared the locker room with Jordan. The then NBA commissioner, David Stern, had linked NBA basketball with ‘hip hop’, as a new ‘cool’ fashion, but since the Rodney King thing, the dress codes in the NBA were curiously activated, because Stern didn’t want the players to look like they came out of a gangsta rap group… “.

This is the NBA most contested with abuses of power, and it is not thanks to Jordan

Rivero continues explaining ‘The Jordan Gap’: “It is a symbol of that time, which coincides with the first Gulf War, that of the defeat of the most politically involved generation, the one that appeared in ‘The Great Lebowski’. Looking the other way. Jordan was the first brand man, with the Air Jordan, which was implicitly accompanied by avoiding politics then. Jordan is more like O. J. Simpson in that regard. The stars were not welcome in politics

“Without a doubt Jordan is the son of his time,” says Peinado, “of Reagan, the ultra-sponsorship and that at the time, demonstrating politically was not as simple as now. It is true that Bill Russell and Kareem were there, and to a lesser extent Julius ErvingBut they were specific cases, the league used to say nothing. Undoubtedly the current one is the most politicized NBA. It is a phenomenon that begins with LeBron positioning himself in the case of Travyon Martin and that it is not only him, but a clique of friends who also have class consciousness as Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul… each in their own way, they are players who have positioned themselves politically. Lebron opened the door for Steph Curry to decide, for example, not to go to the White House in protest, in the same way that Jordan opened the door for no one to position himself

They are both sides of the Jordan player: extreme competitiveness on the court, little involvement outside it.

The Other Jordan

The figure of Jordan, spurred on by marketing campaigns never seen before, influenced not only the way of walking, dressing or playing basketball from half the planet, but also when it came to leaving politics for the private sphere. In this regard, there is an anecdote that is not in the Netflix documentary, approved and supervised by Jordan, and which serves to explain some of its behavioral traits. 1990: Iraq invades Kuwait. 1991: The US expels Iraq from Kuwait and enters Iraqi territory. George Bush Sr. doubts whether to escalate the war – invade Baghdad to overthrow Saddam Hussein – or leave him alone. What was happening then in Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls locker room? To the coach Phil Jackson grown up in antiVietnam culture– He didn’t like a hair the invasion of Iraq. Jackson asked his players if the US should invade Baghdad. The most fiery Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen they said yes. Jackson countered possible side effects: the children of the dead Iraqis would take on such hatred that they would end up becoming terrorists and “blowing up a skyscraper” in the United States. As it is. Jackson did not mention the Twin Towers (it would have been the last straw) but the Sears Tower in Chicago, but as a prophecy it is not wasted.

This episode appears in ‘The Jordan Rules’, journalist’s book Sam Smith, who in 1991 revealed what the documentary now measures and has opened the eyes of many: that Jordan was not only the best player in the world and a charismatic machine for selling shoes, but also a toxic leader for his obsessive competitiveness.

Smith’s book – which counted a year in the Bulls’ life – was not friendly, but neither was a demolition of Jordan as interpreted, because the player’s image was then immaculate. The brand of the smiling basketball star and for all audiences was worth billions of dollars. Jordan avoided anything that might splash his image / brand, be it a political statement or an incisive text about his capricious wardrobe management. The player was then at highs of unimpeachable popularity. In that context, Smith’s book fell like a bomb.

He told him Jerry reinsdordBulls owner Sam Smih those years: “Jordan was too concerned with his image”. “If Jordan was a product of American consumer society, he was also a prisoner of the image he had created. He became the most visible spokesperson for big brand products for his pristine image. He was charming, with an easy and flattering smile. His name had never been associated with any scandal or questionable habit, “Smith summarized years later in a new foreword to the book.

The reviled 'The Jordan Rules' has become a book to claim.The reviled 'The Jordan Rules' has become a book to claim.The reviled ‘The Jordan Rules’ has become a book to claim.

Sam smith he is now 72 years old. Before dedicating himself to writing about basketball, he was an investigative and political journalist. Maybe that’s why, when he started writing a book about Jordan and the Bulls, he went well beyond what anyone had done before. Given that the journalist worked in the ‘Chicago Tribune’, that the book generated enormous controversy and that Jordan was then god, Smith became a plague in his own city for a few weeks. But how would I say José María García: Time, that supreme judge who gives and takes reasons, has ended up putting Smith and his book in their place, one of the great stories of sports journalism. What the Netflix documentary tells now, Smith told without filters when Jordan was in full power.

Looking back without anger (and even humor), Smith recalls for El Confidencial how he lived those years when he was the only discordant voice: “The book was very controversial for many reasons. It came out while Jordan was involved in a scandal betting, which included a secret gambling weekend instead of going to visit the White House with the Bulls. The book differed from his idyllic publicity image, and from his supposedly perfect demeanor towards his teammates. So many people did not believe the book. In Chicago they said exposing quarrels between players was upsetting and would keep the Bulls from winning again. “

Jordan assumed the leadership of Phil Jackson, but took advantage of the pre-match talks to go to the bathroom

The book covered the 90/91 season, the year the Bulls won their first ring. Not having won a title until then, Jordan was already taking unheard-of licenses in the locker room, such as skipping talks by coach Phil Jackson before games. His motives? I had to go do … poop. Not a joke in any way: Jordan went to the bathroom really, he had a habit of doing a stomach before playing, unless the other players, whether or not they wanted or wanted to poop, did attend the harangue, according to Smith .

For the journalist, the problem that his book was so poorly received has to do with the idealized version that the sports press had created around Jordan: “Many Bulls fans were angry because of the narrative spread by some jealous and Competitors who said I had ruined the team. “

But the winning streak had only just begun, and Jackson never hid that Jordan received special treatment, just as years later he allowed Dennis Rodman go farra in full playoffs to vent. Jackson is kind of zen warrior: His ability to team up with monstrous ego stars is beyond question: 11 titles with Jordan’s Bulls and Kobe Bryant’s Lakers. Does this mean that ‘hippie’ Jackson never stopped Jordan’s feet? No.

Jordan, in his famous dunk from the 1988 free throw line. (NBA)Jordan, in his famous dunk from the 1988 free throw line. (NBA)Jordan, in his famous dunk from the 1988 free throw line. (NBA)

In fact, Phil Jackson earned the player’s respect by setting limits, unlike the previous Bulls coach, Doug Collins, so focused on pleasing Jordan … that he ended up alienating him. “Collins so quickly allowed Jordan’s childish tantrumsThe player realized two things: that he could do as he pleased without fear of punishment, and that he could no longer respect his coach, “Smith wrote. After a crucial game against the Pistons – end of conference in 1990— Collins told Jordan he was sucking too much. Jordan’s response? He barely threw the next game into the basket. The press that night spoke of the Pistons’ legendary defense; only Jordan and Collins knew what had really happened: that Jordan had behaved like an offended damsel. “It was a matter of prideSmith points out.

The same pride that led Jordan to put 69 points one day after verifying that the rival team, the Cavs, were going to cover the entire game with one man, the ‘white boy’ Craig Ehlo. Jordan felt insulted! That is to say, his competitive fire led him to behave both as an irresponsible little boy and as the best player of his era. It was an indissoluble pack. One of the player’s psychological keys was typical of children between two and three years old: challenge your parents by doing something prohibited, when deep down you want them to set limits for you. Phill Jackson took it in right away.

“Despite the apparent sophistication of his relations with the media and the public, Jordan was often like a child seeking discipline, pushing matters to the limit, until someone came to punish him. Jackson quickly realized, and he used to his own advantage Jordan’s need for a father figure; Jackson would not tolerate Jordan’s childhood outbursts“Smith wrote.

“Phil Jackson’s main virtue,” says Quique Peinado, “is his infinite ability to understand the needs of superstars while convincing the rest of the team that the privileges that these players enjoy are in the common goodPeinado continues: “Jackson is the best manager of egos and personalities in NBA history: this is the only way to explain his success having three stars in which one is a gulf (Rodman), another is extremely angry with the team ( Pippen) and the third … is Michael Jordan. “

Jordan was often like a child seeking discipline, pushing matters to the limit, until someone came to punish him.

After earning his respect, Jackson changed the Bulls’ system. Jordan started to play more as a team and the titles came. But even though there was a happy ending, the coach’s first months – those with the fewest balls to Jordan and the most quick passes to seek other offensive threats – were torture, with Jordan frustrated at not having enough prominence. The new “team game” made it difficult for him to be the league’s top scorer. Privately, Jordan harshly criticized the new system, according to Smith. In public, he subtly dropped his discomfort. Since Jackson cut his minutes on the court, Jordan decided to jump into his shoes at the start of games to avoid falling in the scoring statistics. Asked about it by the press, the coach replied: “The older I get, the more patient I become.” The psychological war ended up being won by Samurai Jackson.

It is highly likely that Phil Jackson’s left hand deprived the world of seeing a much more aggressive and individualistic version of Jordan. In one of his memoirs, “Eleven Rings,” Jackson reflected on the relationship between egos, millions, and team play: “It takes years of preparation to get young athletes to distance themselves from their egos and become fully involved in group experience. The NBA is not exactly the best environment to instill generosity. Although it’s a sport involving five players, the surrounding culture encourages selfish behaviors and highlights individual achievement rather than team links … Basketball has become an industry that produces billions dollars … and with a complex media machinery … One of the unfortunate consequences of this is the obsession with stardom in commercial terms, which inflates the egos of a handful of players and wreaks havoc on what makes the people are attracted to basketball: the intrinsic beauty of the sport. “Jackson was not referring to any specific player, but to an ecosystem, of which Jordan and Bryant were their most refined products, at least until Jackson collectivized them ‘.

The inspiring model

For the past 30 years, the figure of Michael Jordan has surpassed the fields of sport or youth. Thousands of coaches, managers and entrepreneurs have used the escort’s legendary competitive voracity as inspiration to achieve unthinkable goals. This was only possible thanks to an uncritical environment of collective fascination, which he exalted him without asking questions. However, the Netflix documentary has served to discover that Jordan’s behavior with his companions closely resembles what we know today as a toxic leadership, something that Sam Smith noticed when nobody wanted to hear it. “The documentary is a hagiography, a celebration of Michael. As it should be. He told his story in his own way for the first time. In my opinion, he doesn’t pretend to be a journalist. Others before him, including me, have told his story before, It’s okay for him to do it now, and obviously people are enjoying it. Everyone is a hero when he tells his personal story. It’s only natural, “Smith told this newspaper.

Journalist Sam Smith, right, in a recent video conference.Journalist Sam Smith, right, in a recent video conference.Journalist Sam Smith, right, in a recent video conference.

The journalist was the first to detect that, far from the spotlight, Jordan showed a more disturbing side: “I would not call it a dark side. I knew that his relationship with his teammates was mostly good, only that could become severe and demanding both jokingly and defiantly that many colleagues did not like. In the documentary he recognizes that it was his way of exercising leadership. I realized then. I didn’t investigate anything special. It was a daily newspaper of a team. A look behind the scenes of a season, “says Smith.

But Jordan did not fool anyone. Shortly after arriving in the NBA, he explained his priorities with great candor: “I think of myself first, then the team. I always want my teams to succeed, but thanks to me”. “It is hard to play with Michael Jordan because you are always the reason that the team loses,” said the former player. Dave Corzine. Of those Corzine Bulls and Artis Gilmore, among whom Jordan does not keep many friends, said in the documentary that they used cocaine and hired prostitutes on party trips.

Jordan, during his rookie season. (NBA)Jordan, during his rookie season. (NBA)Jordan, during his rookie season. (NBA)

Jordan was saved by his sympathy and natural charisma, but from the inside, his ability to irritate was high. His attitude towards his companions swung between the chascarrillo and the offensive condescension. Something like: With these killings I don’t even get around the corner, as if instead of the Bulls he played on the disabled team of ‘Champions’. To the center Bill Cartwright He was bothered by the Jordan forgiving. “Cartwright couldn’t understand why the press excused Jordan’s outbursts as a mere competitive desire to win. Didn’t the other players try hard to win, didn’t want to win, or maybe didn’t deserve to win because they weren’t so talented?” Smith wrote. Cartwright had reason to be pissed off: in season 88-89, Jordan gave the order not to pass the ball to him during the last minutes of the games (Coach Collins didn’t even know). “I have nothing against Bill, but passing him the ball in the final minutes was not a good idea, I still think about it,” Jordan says on Netflix.

Sometimes Jordan could be as demanding as a badass landlord: in 1987 he psychologically “broke” a novice (Brad Sellers) with verbal and physical abuse in training. The reason for the cruelty? Jordan had asked the board to sign another player in place of Sellers, but they ignored him, felt betrayed and paid for it with the rookie. According to Smith’s book, Sellers was so touched that his NBA career was short.

Jordan continued to intimidate colleagues who did not reach his level. Scott Burrell, a stratospheric athlete for whom the NBA and NFL fought, is a constant object of ‘Jordanian’ mockery throughout the documentary. TO Horace Grant, the man who did the dirty work for the Bulls before Jordan, harassed him during his later years on the team, to the point of forcing him out on charges of being the mole in the Sam Smith book. To young man Toni Kukoc, a rising European star, subjected him to constant humiliation and contempt for one simple reason: that he came to the Bulls charging more than Scottie Pippen. Of course this was not the Croatian’s fault, but the manager’s Jerry krause, whom Jordan often refers to as “fat and ugly dwarf.” TO Steve Kerr and Will purdue, two of his most faithful squires, Jordan each punched them in the face after training. There are more examples, but the idea seems clear.

The unbeatable Bulls of 98. (NBA)The unbeatable Bulls of 98. (NBA)The unbeatable Bulls of 98. (NBA)

At this point, we ask ourselves: Should we banish Jordan’s example of leadership forever? Answer back Jacobo Rivero: “Jordan’s leadership is difficult to judge, because aggressive leadership sometimes generates a level of competitive tension that involves the rest of the players. That usually ends explosively in the locker room, although it also depends on how each player manages it from the solitude of his home.. Jordan exploited that to the fullest, although he became so beastly involved that he forced the rest of the players not to be left behind. It was also the perverse logic of the NBA in those years. Success above any limit. The NBA was coming from a tragedy, Magic Johnson’s illness and the end of the Lakers’ cycle against the Celtics. I needed to beat that bar with Michael Jordan. A new dynasty had to be generated. Jordan’s tyranny served to fuel that model of competition. There was also a problem with training basketball. Jordan and others came off ultra-competitive varsity teams. When everything is on track for victory, coaches have trouble managing the heads of young players. It is success above all else. The kind of success where you don’t give a shit about your rival or your teammates. “

“Jordan’s is a leadership style that leads to win a lot, but also to drive mad the excellent person who is Steve Kerr, who is a coach with a leadership style that is on the way to becoming a legend,” he says. Hairstyle. “If we measure the success of a leadership in terms of performance, Jordan was a great leader. Now, it is worth asking how many friends you have left in the process. When Jordan breaks down in tears in the documentary, it is because he knows that his former colleagues have a very bad image of him. Is this attitude necessary to achieve so many championships? I don’t know, what I do know is that the cost in terms of his personal life is great. “

Out of the Burrow

Jordan’s obsession with his image is one of the great subplots of ‘The Last Dance’. Throughout the footage —that without Jordan’s help it wouldn’t have made sense— the most conflicting aspects of the Bulls star’s behavior emerge, but without making blood; ends up being a celebration of a figure with chiaroscuro. The move was not without risks for Jordan, since the control of the story is now much more difficult than in 1991. Because right now? After years of seclusion in the media, Jordan may have decided to leave the burrow to review / nurture his legacy in the face of an outside threat: LeBron James was beginning to be said to be as good as he was. According to ‘The New York Times’, Jordan gave the green light to the documentary the same day Cleveland celebrated the Cavaliers’ win over the indestructible Golden State Warriors, LeBron’s new heroic ring. Was Jordan concerned that LeBron overshadowed his reign? Were the ‘millennials’ clear who the true king of the NBA was? Do great egos move the world?

Sam Smith, the man who lived the Bulls from within, values ​​the Netflix documentary, but sees it in another category, closer to entertainment than information: “The documentary is honest. It is mostly accurate and I think they have done a good job. But I feel like, in a few things, they don’t tell the whole truth, even though they probably say it’s my truth and not theirs. I firmly believe that Jordan did not want to continue playing in the 1998-99 season [el jugador deja caer en el documental que se retiró de los Bulls forzado por la directiva, y nadie le desmiente a las claras]. Now he says he did want to continue. However, So much has been written about Jordan that I think there is more truth to him than to any other athlete in history.

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