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In Wilbon's World

The Speech: That's MJ

Who knew that a man who hardly said anything controversial in 25 years in public life could cause such a buzz in his Hall of Fame induction speech? But Michael Jordan's remarks Friday night in Springfield at the Basketball Hall of Fame have stirred quite a debate.

There are essentially two camps: those who think Jordan's comments were a candid, funny, raw, refreshing and perfectly representative of the ruthlessness with which he played; and those who think one's Hall of Fame induction speech should be much more deferential, gracious and appropriate than Jordan's was.

Someone took the opportunity to criticize Jordan as a "competitive sociopath."

My reaction was to be surprised at the reaction of people who were so stunned. What did they think separated Jordan from merely great athletes? Almost certainly it was the controlled rage with which he played every single night of his life and probably 90 percent of the practices in which he participated. A less ruthless Jordan would have been, well, Clyde Drexler.

If it sounds as if I'm praising Jordan for this trait, I am. It's as much who he is as the wagging tongue. I covered most of Michael Jordan's career, from the NCAA title game in 1982 when he and the Tar Heels beat Georgetown to his two years with the Washington Wizards, which he didn't even refer to during HOF weekend (no surprise there either). Starting in about 1994 I had more access to Jordan than most reporters, and by 1997 it simply evolved that we became friends. But I always knew that everything, to Jordan, was a slight and he never forgot anything.

Quick story: In the early 1990s when Alonzo Mourning was on a tear and evolving from good young player to NBA All-Star, my sports editor George Solomon told me to follow Mourning for a few days and write about him, seeing as there is always interest reader interest in a Georgetown alum who was becoming a star. I went to Chicago for the first stop because it was always great to measure an up-and-coming player against the reigning champion Chicago Bulls and because I could sneak home for a minute and see family in Chicago -- and I could see Jordan play, which was always like going to the theatre.

Anyway, I went to the Bulls locker room, chatted with Jordan for a few minutes, asking him during that time about Mourning and what he thought of his development. It dawned on Jordan I had come "home" (his and mine) to write about Mourning, not the Bulls, not MJ. And Jordan took great delight, beginning in 1982, in beating Georgetown players. He never let Patrick Ewing forget who won that NCAA championship game. But this was something Jordan could use on some non-descript night to get into his pre-game rage.

"So you came home to write about one of your Georgetown boys?" Jordan said, becoming annoyed. "You didn't come to see me; you came to see that Georgetown kid? Suppose he doesn't score tonight? What you gonna write in The Washington Post then?"

Jordan was full-on by then and I'd seen this enough to know to pretty much shut up -- though I did say, "What do you mean, 'suppose he doesn't score?' "

Jordan said, "What don't you understand about, 'he ain't gonna score'?" I felt bad that Mourning was going to pay for this slight more than me.

Keep in mind Mourning was averaging about 20 points per game and Jordan, a guard, wouldn't be the guy guarding him ... not exactly.

I wish I could remember the exact game and find the box score, but I recall that when Jordan left the game the Bulls had a huge lead and Morning had three points. The Bulls defense had smothered Mourning, and Jordan had a couple of those swoop-in strips on double-teams Mourning never knew were coming.

In the locker room afterward, Jordan called me over and said quietly, "Listen, don't be rough on Mourning in your story. ... He's going to be a great player. ...His left hand isn't there yet though. He can't go left. I knew we'd overplay him and not let him go right and he couldn't really score on our defense. ...But don't go crazy criticizing him; he'll figure it out ...okay?"

Yep, got it.

There were times Jordan would talk to me at the Berto Center where the Bulls practiced. More than once we sat in the complete dark while he put his shoes on because the lights of the gym hadn't been turned on yet.

One morning we talked just about Dean Smith, Phil Jackson and Jordan's own father, James, who had been murdered. We'd lost our fathers at about the same point in life (me at 27 him at 30), though for very different reasons. Proving ourselves to our fathers was central to both of us. So no, not everything was trash talking or making a competitive point. I was trying to remember over the weekend if I ever heard anybody get the best of Jordan in a verbal exchange, and I came up with one example, just one.

At dinner one night in Washington when Jordan was running the Wizards -- so this was the 2000 season, I'm guessing -- one of Jordan's older brothers, Larry (a damn good player himself at one time), was on the wrong end of some needling from Michael. Larry's probably, oh, 5-foot-8 or 5-9, though MJ always calls him "5-4, 5-5" as he did during his induction speech.

Anyway, Larry waited politely until his younger brother finished a rant and said, "Michael, if you hadn't had that growth spurt., your ass would have wound up working at Pep Boys."

The laughter seemed to last forever. And nobody at the table laughed harder than Michael Jordan.


Michael Wilbon

 |  September 13, 2009; 8:16 AM ET  |  Category:  Hall of Fame , Michael Jordan , NBA Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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no surprise that 'Toddlin Town' Wilbon is back to slurp all over MJ....

Posted by: Durham2 | September 17, 2009 4:43 PM
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Jordan can really say anything he wants in his acceptance speech. And people can say whatever they want about what he said.
I think it's sad that he holds on so tightly to that anger, to the point where he brings up every perceived slight. It may be a great way to motivate one's self in competition, but life itself - in my opinion - shouldn't be a competition. Where does Michael find an outlet for that anger now? He sure as hell can't run a franchise - he's proven that. On the golf course? In the casinos?

Posted by: kenzoan13 | September 16, 2009 2:31 PM
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I loved MJ's speech. As longtime fan and admirer of what he accomplished, to hear those stories, what motivated him that's real. Yeah it might sound a little cocky, but I think people always wanted to know what made him tick and for one of the few times he let you in and let you know.

I loved the stories he shared and honestly, wished he had shared more. Without that speech, so many common folks like me would never have known those things.

Posted by: NY-Terp | September 15, 2009 5:41 PM
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MJ is basically a dope. Phenomenal player, but a dope. As Laura Ingraham would say, the best thing gifted athletes, and entertainers can do is shut up and sing..

Posted by: SMWE357 | September 15, 2009 5:23 AM
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It shouldn't be a HUGE SURPRISE at how Washington DC/Maryland/VA fans would react to MJ's borderline trash-talk speech at the HOF. We were spoiled for years with the HIGH-STANDARDS and HIGH-CHARACTER of such local stars as ART MONK, DARRYL GREEN, CAL RIPKEN, EDDIE MURRAY. And since die-hard Skins fans had to WAIT FOR AN ETERNITY before Wilbon and his crony "journalists" finally got around to voting ART MONK into the HOF (I know, Wilbon's no longer on the committee but he had a VOTE and a VOICE), all fans were TREATED to a HUMBLE, MOVING speech from a class individual. Even MICHAEL IRVIN's inspiring speech made this Cowboy hater TEARY-EYED. Had MJ made such a speech at Canton, he'd be BOOED OFF THE STAGE.

Now I'm rooting for Mike's boy KOBE to surpass MJ's accomplishments. Takes a selfish individual to beat another one...

Posted by: iamasofaking | September 15, 2009 2:35 AM
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MJ is a jerk and he pretty much proved it during his speech. you can dig up some nice stuff about him, but it doesnt change the fact that he is all about himself.

Posted by: Woodbridge45 | September 14, 2009 5:08 PM
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Mr. Wilbon, I agree with your comments here as I have agreed with you in the past too. I think its crazy for anyone to be upset. MJ is a great person. I don't belive he intended to really hurt anyone he gave a ribbing to. I actually shed a small tear at the beginning of the speech because I felt his pain. That he was not content. He wants to play against all of these guys who are in the league now with the type of youth and energy he once had. Age is not fair. He is not holding office and representing a nation so don't put so much value on his words. What he said is not going to have terrorist attacking us or have your taxes raised. Point your crappy attitudes elsewhere.

Posted by: jAIRmeeg | September 14, 2009 3:53 PM
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Did those who didn't like MJ's speech actually watch the whole thing - especially the beginning? He said that because of who he is - which happens to be one of the greatest basketball players, atheletes, and pitchmen of all time - that most people already know everything about him. He then proceeded to let us all know something most of us didn't know - that is what fueled his competitive fire to make him great.
He then truthfully told the story of his life and how each person in his life - from family, to high school buddies, to coaches and other players both helped him to be become great and/or fueled his competitive fire by daring to say he couldn't do something on the basketball court.
I was fascinated to see this side of Jordan and certainly enjoyed it much more than if had gotten up on the podium to give some false platitudes. Did he say some negative things about some people? Yes. But he also thanked those same people for helping to make him the best.

Posted by: sqmitch | September 14, 2009 11:51 AM
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How can you let his insult of Jerry "Crumbs" Krause pass, without a comment about Jordan's poor performance in the same job. MJ was the greatest player, but in the job of GM, Krause has beat him by a mile. MJ's comment is true chutzpah carrying his record.

Posted by: leopard12 | September 13, 2009 9:08 PM
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Well Wilbon I have to say that it never ceases to amaze me when the mediocre in life pounce on the super achievers. None of the critics from Friday's speech is an all star in ANYTHING that I've seen. None have ever been the best at anything that requires once in a generation talent. I get so tired of this phony politeness and politically correct facade that achievers are expected to put on so that the masses don't feel so damned bad about being the masses. I personally loved the speech. I found it refreshing and insightful of the man that is the greatest to ever play the game. That it would seem foreign to most should be expected. Love this page Michael. Glad you're doing it!

Posted by: geneboyer | September 13, 2009 7:42 PM
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Dear Mr. Wilbon, I ready your column in the Post, Watch PTI and see you on Sports Center. But was upset with the article that you wrote on MJ. You mentioned everyone except Vivian Stringer. She had the most heartfelt speach because she ahd the most to overcome in her professional life. No wonder that women'ts sports is in the background because we are thought of as second class. Shame on you. You need to let her know that she is just as important as the men that got into the Hall of Fame.

Posted by: CeesDen | September 13, 2009 7:00 PM
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Like I stated in other threads, there is a time and place for everything. Did I miss something? Was there a game about to be played? Is he going to play a game again? No. So, show us something we haven't seen before. Not spite and pettiness while your being fawned over one last time. It was actually uncomfortable to listen to at times!

Posted by: rphilli721 | September 13, 2009 3:53 PM
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Mr. Wilbon You Are Right On. As I Thought The Speech Was Great!! The Only Part That Was Even Remotly Questionable Was What MJ Said About Kruse. Everything else was Sheer Greatness In My Opinion.

Posted by: agapezoe55 | September 13, 2009 3:51 PM
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"If it sounds as if I'm praising Jordan for this trait, I am."

Sometimes the means don't justify the end. We worship winning at just about any cost in our culture.

I like most admired and respected his ability as a basketball player. But the end game ultimately is the person; a person who has to deal with that base energy when lights go out and the adulation fades.

These type of people dont have friends (sorry Michael). They're manipulators, bullies, and users of those who they allow in there inner circle. As long as they are not challenged or percieved to be challenged, they will not turn on you. It's all about them. This is not a trait I would want my children to emulate.

In this era of increasing incivility, there are hostile people in the world who justify there pathology, based on the same type of reasoning that you admire MW.

If unchecked at an early age, it ultimately morphs into something far more dangerousn unless for instance, they hit a growth spurt.

At the least, petulance in adults is unbecoming no matter how talented. I hope MJ can get a good night sleep, but i doubt it.

Posted by: emw2u | September 13, 2009 3:19 PM
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A question for Mr Wilbon : In 'Wilibon world' is spite,rudeness, and ungraciousness rule your planet?!?
If so, you and your people should hold a parade for your latest citizen M. Jordan. Now, if he would do to you, what he did to the Hall...Maybe, you would be offended............?
ps: is it true, that Wilbon's world is behind Uranus?

Posted by: aljb | September 13, 2009 3:13 PM
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Dear Mr. Wilbon,

I have been following your work in the post for more years than either of us probably would care to mention. I think you are an excellent writer and have, mostly, agreed with your opinions which I have found to be fair, clear and reasonable.
So, of course, I have a quibble. I found parts Michael Jordon's speech petty and graceless. And I surprised with your comment that, "There was more than enough graciousness before Jordan took the stage."
There is never enough graciousness. Especially in a country in which more and more people are behaving rudely and antagonistically. Everyday we see more examples (the president's speech; professional athletes, etc.) of ill mannered behavior from people who should command respect.
Michael Jordon may be "the reason we...sat up straight...and waited to be engaged, to be entertained." It's too bad that the entertainment was peppered with spite.

Posted by: mjoyce1111 | September 13, 2009 12:03 PM
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