In honor of Michael Jordan’s 50th birthday tomorrow, I thought it would be a good opportunity to reflect on what number 23 meant to me growing up, but also to admit something I never thought I would.
Raised in a basketball family, I idolized Michael Jordan growing up. Every morning before school, I would run outside in my overworn Chicago Bulls sweater, scoop up the daily newspaper (back when everyone ordered the daily newspaper), bring it inside and sprawl it about the living room floor. Aflutter with anticipation, I’d toss aside the News and Local sections of the paper as if they were wrapping paper on a Christmas present so I could get to the only part I cared anything about: the Sports section.
I’d whip the pages of The Press-Enterprise open so quickly the smell of ink would waft up and instantly fill the room. I would very soon find the NBA section, which I had developed a keen eye for, and scan the box scores. If the Chicago Bulls, Michael Jordan’s team, had played the previous night, there was no way I was going to school that day without knowing who they had played, whether they had won, and most importantly, how many point Michael Jordan had dropped.
Every kid needs a hero growing up; a role model; someone to look up to; someone to aspire to become. Some kids had heroes. Others had superheroes. To say Michael Jordan was either to me would have been an outrageous understatement. Never had I seen such talent, such relentlessness, such fire, such artistry, such swagger. Like countless other kids, I wanted to be ‘Like Mike.’
One year, I asked my parents for a Michael Jordan jersey for Christmas and on Christmas morning I received a Luc Longley jersey. Now, if you’re not an avid sports fan, you might not be familiar with Longley, one of Jordan’s teammates in the 90s. That said, I don’t think it makes much a difference, because the only way I could quantify the disappointment I felt is by saying, “It’s like getting a Luc Longley jersey when you wanted a Michael Jordan jersey.” Besides, I was a pretty lanky kid back then and ‘Longley’ was the last thing I wanted printed across my back when I went to school.
Anyways, let’s talk about Michael Jordan the player. For the longest time, I counted myself among the staunchest of Jordan contemporaries. I’d defend him as the GOAT (greatest of all time) to anyone foolish enough to make a case for Lebron James, Kobe Bryant or any other clown who wouldn’t dream to hold a candle to “His Airness.”
But now, amidst Lebron James’ historically Herculean season, I’m finding myself entertaining the thought of a new GOAT. I always knew Jordan wouldn’t be able to secure his lock on the distinction forever, I just never expected the day could come so soon.
This season, Lebron is averaging 27 points, 8 rebounds, and 7 assists per night on an otherworldly 56.5 percent shooting. He’s dominating games with ease and if he continues his torrid, frenetic charge through the record books, he may just usurp Jordan as top dog by the end of his career.
Whether or not he does, one thing’s never going to change: There will only be one Michael Jordan. There will never be another player who meant so much to the game of basketball, and all of sports for that matter.
Enjoy this video of the top 50 plays of MJ’s magical career. It’s 15 minutes long and worth every second. Happy birthday to the coolest man ever to put on a pair of shorts.
Also, it should be noted, my mom eventually did swap (albeit, reluctantly) the Longley jersey for the more expensive Jordan one. Love you, mom!