A Hate Worth Loving

Today’s not all that big of a deal to me.

The Hall of Fame, thing, I mean. The other thing with the sadness and regret and outrage and memory of a day that seem incomprehensible compared to every other day, that day, yeah, that’s a pretty big deal. As is the fact that it’s Paroxi-Wife’s birthday (talk about awkward).

But as this is a basketball ‘blog’ or whatev kthxbai, we need to remark on HOF Day. And it’s striking because of how monumental a class this is. Sloan. Stockton. Robinson. And of course, Him. His Airness. The GOAT. Jordan.

Oh, how I loathed Jordan.

I can hear your shock and surprise. Yeah, I’m a hater of teams that are really good. It’s a disease. Maybe someday the only pro sports team I actually consider myself a fan of will win six titles and then I’ll know how awesome it is to be a dynasty. But unless Matt Cassell suddenly becomes omnipotent, I don’t see that happening.

It was infuriating to me that Jordan took the spotlight away from so many players. Truth be told, the first run of titles didn’t do much for me. It was before I got into sports, quite honestly. Olajuwon’s Rockets were the first team to really make an impact on me, which is why last year’s induction of him was such a big deal for me. He’s still the best center that I ever got to watch live.  But definitely up there is Robinson, who we’ll get to in a bit.

The second run of Jordan’s titles, though, seemed so self-centric. It wasn’t about the team, it lost any pretense of being about the city or the team or the franchise. It was just Jordan. You can point to Pippen and Rodman and Kukoc all you’d like, but in the end, for most of the known universe outside of the actual long-time die-hard Bulls fans, it was just about him.

I always felt like he took something away from Grant Hill in those years, when Hill was still, you know, one actual piece of human flesh versus the seventeen battered components hobbled together like Gizmo-Duck he is now.  He seemed to rob that next generation of the chance to really shine and took it all back to just being about him.

But then, that’s all rationalization and blame-setting, I’ve come to understand in later years as I watch the games on ESPN Classic or NBA TV and read the volumes and volumes being written about him this week. The real reason I hated him? Because the guy was simply better than everyone else.

That spinning kick-out fadeaway? I can’t begin to understand how difficult that shot must be to hit even 20% of the time. The fact that Kobe manages to do it without the leg kick out means I’ll probably be rehashing these same thoughts in a few years when Kobe goes in.

The aerial acrobatics? I freak out over Tyrus Thomas jumping fourteen feet in the air or Josh Smith being able to dunk from what seems like the three point line, but I can’t recognize how insane those reverses were?

And beyond all of this is simply his ability to win. Win constantly, win consistently, win against everyone. I always root for the underdog, so Jordan was like the black plague. He was the favorite from the moment he reached ascension until that second retirement. And he won. Almost every time. And there have been other winners. Robert Horry comes to mind. Dude just knew how to win, and was a part of so many winning teams. But Jordan wasn’t a part of a winning team. He won the games. Don’t get me wrong, Scottie Pippen is a hero to me as an Arkansas native, and his skill set matches up so much better with the things that I value. But let’s face it. Cleveland. New York. Salt Lake City. All of those cities have people who likely suffer internal meltdowns whenever his name is mentioned.The dude was a one man wrecking crew of hopes and dreams across the league for almost a decade all the while completely enrapturing not just fans of the league, but fans of sport and culture everywhere.

Jordan is the physical manifestation of sports greatness. In a lot of ways, he’s the standard by which sports greatness should be measured. But I’m not sure that’s fair, since no one will ever live up to it. I was thinking about that the other day as I pondered Bryant for the 700,000th time. People seem to think it’s an insult to say “He’s no Jordan.” Well, no sh*t. Funny how that works. NO ONE is Jordan. No one will ever be Jordan. I firmly believe LeBron James has the physical and talent capabilities to go down as the ultimate basketball player. And yet every instinct in my body says that if you asked me “Will he ever be considered as good as Jordan?” I would immediately shout “Of course not!”

Jordan killed the young me. Just killed me. The list of players and teams I loved that he vanquished during that time is long. Very long. Drexler’s Blazers. Barkley’s Suns. Payton and Kemp’s Sonics are particularly painful, I was obsessed with Payton for several years. The list goes on an on. Oddly, one team I didn’t mind them beating was the Jazz who I always felt were overrated and I thought Karl Malone was kind of a jerk. I did like Stockton a lot, and always wished he’d had somebody else to run alongside him. I’m pretty sure he’s pretty happy with how things turned out, though.

Looking back on it, though, I realize how sad it is that I spent that time being torn up about Jordan. I was unable to appreciate how … well, awesome he was. I was getting to watch a player that was monumentally better than anyone that had come before, or has come since.  I should have still been able to appreciate how good he was even as I was, you know, hoping he’d break his leg during one of those moves.  He wasn’t just great, he was the greatest, and I’m thankful I was alive and cognizant of basketball to watch him play.

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Of course, there is a certain degree of fitting cruelty that Stockton and Robinson and the others are going in with him. After all, what would a Michael Jordan moment be if it wasn’t overshadowing the accomplishments of other people? Thankfully, there’s been a lot of attention thrown Robinson and the rest, so even though they’re going in behind MJ’s shadow, they’re still getting theirs. And I’m sure they’re all honored to be inducted at the same time as HIM.

Robinson was impossible to hate, by comparison. As much as I loved Olajuwon, I watched Robinson every chance I could. Big men in the modern age have become so centralized as bodies; Robinson provides a great counter to that. Touch, speed, discipline, awareness, power, strength, the whole package. The discipline is what I’ll always remember. The guy seemingly had no end to his motor. Never ran out of gas. You had to stab him to get him to miss a game, and even then, you better hit an artery. He wasn’t obsessed with winning, he was driven to play the game right and live his life the right way. That Robinson didn’t go the way of so many and retire without a title is satisfyingly just in a sports world that is anything but.

For actual insightful commentary on today, I recommend you check out:

By the Horns

Project Spurs

Blog-A-Bull

SLC Dunk

Salt City Hoops

48 Minutes of Hell

Matt Moore

Matt Moore is a Senior NBA Blogger for CBSSports.com's Eye on Basketball blog, weekend editor of Pro Basketball Talk on NBCSports.com, and co-editor of Voice on the Floor. He lives in Kansas City due to an unbelievably complex set of circumstances and enjoys mid-90's pop rock, long walks on the beach and the novels of Tim Sandlin.