Thanks For… That… Mike…

Here’s what’s fantastic about MJ”s speech. The fact that I’m even writing about it means there will likely be comments. Even if I make it clear that I have no problem with the speech, his supporters will say he shouldn’t be criticized. Even if I laugh openly (and I am) about how much of a complete classless jackass he looked like last night (and he did), people will find fault with not condemning his speech. But I’m doing neither.

Lord knows…

other people…

are willing to do that.

I asked Trey about it, and he summed it up nicely.

“100% Jordan. Human, but vindictive assh*le. And pretty funny. I loved it.”

And that’s what it comes down to. If you’ve spent your whole life worshipping Michael Jordan and having shielded yourself from the fact that Jordan as a human being is as fault-filled as the rest of us (and probably a little more so if you dig judgment), you’re not going to suddenly throw out your jerseys, posters, and shoes just because it’s become blatantly obvious that Jordan’s kind of a ruthless SOB. You’re going to support him, because what he gave you was an icon, and the greatest basketball player of all time. That’s what the enshrinement was about. Him as a player. And in that regard, his speech perfectly reflected his career. And it shouldn’t, and won’t change anyone’s perception of him.

I mean, look no further than KD’s brilliant tome yesterday about what MJ means to his fans. He’s everything to them.  And Dwyer (wisely) didn’t watch the HOF speeches. But I have a hard time believing, as the criticism of Mike’s “Half-Baked-esque” speech starts blooming across the web, that anyone’s opinion of Jordan will change if they did care enough to watch. He’s still the icon, the smiling face in Space Jam, the guy that you’re supposed to look up to because he was so awesome at basketball, the hero to millions. What he means to people won’t change. Nor should it.

There was no revelation last night. This is who he is, who he’s always been. I’ve long thought that there are two types of competitiveness. There are those that seek to be the absolute best at what they do. They strive for greatness, for glory, to accomplish the most they possibly can. And there are others whose entire universe is built around destroying their opponent. There’s being the best, and there’s “being better than everyone else.” And they are different, though the separation is subtle.  This is who Jordan is. It’s why he shrugged. It’s why he reveled in moments when he not only buried the last second game-winner, but did it in his defender’s face. It’s why the tongue wagged and he walked with more swagger than anyone. He loved beating people. So it’s no surprise that on his night, he chose to celebrate his career by shoving it in everyone’s face. Last night he put a clinic on Pat Riley, Byron Russell, John Starks, Isiah Thomas, and Jerry Krauss. “IN YOUR FACE, PEOPLE THAT ANGERED ME TWENTY YEARS AGO!”

The reason I have no problem with this is that the Hall isn’t about him as a person. It’s startling that the greatest player in league’s history is such a jackass, and not so awesome for all of the glorification of him as not only a player but as a cultural entity, but his play is honestly worthy of all that praise. He deserves his own room at the hall. And he deserves to be end his career in the public eye in whatever way he chooses. And he chose to end it by shoving it in people’s face and saying “Sucks to be you” to his kids. That’s just how the Greatest Player of All Time rolls. I’m not going to tell him differently, are you?

It’s his night, let the man have his fun. We’ve been falling over ourselves  for so wrong, what’s wrong with doing it one more night on the precipice of his final ride into the sunset?

I mean, sure, it sucks that John Stockton and David Robinson, who seem to counter Jordan’s entire attitude throughout their entire careers much less Friday night had to spend it being overshadowed by MJ, but I’m sure they take it as an honor to enter next to the GOAT. If you respect the man’s game first, which is the context we’re talking about, everything else is secondary.

This is not to say that he doesn’t deserve attention for it. We’ve so long brushed off the rather sad mess his life has become and the continued bursts of attention from him that seem to indicate that he still wants to get back out thee, not because he actually can (ask Wizards fans), but because it’s everything to him. And it’s admirable that he’s that devoted to the game he loves. But it’s also pretty sad that this is what defines him. It’s sad to look at that on this level. It stunned me last night to realize that Ron Artest probably has more going for him than Michael Jordan as far as a complete life goes. Try and wrap your brains around that.

But like I said, nothing should or will change after last night. The Greatest went into the Hall, his fans love how human and honest he was, the rest of us are kind of uncomfortable and a little put off by how bitter and sad he seemed, but hey, he scored a lot of points and won a ridiculous amount of games, so it’s cool. But something else changed for me last night.

I’ve long despised Kobe because of what I perceived as his arrogance. He always seemed so smug and so absolute in his confidence about his game. But the first thing I thought after the video ended on my little screen? “Kobe would NEVER do that.” When Kobe enters the Hall, he’s going to thank his coaches, especially Jackson, even after their problems. He’s going to thank his teammates. He’s going to thank his family, and while there are certainly jokes to be made in that arena, there’s no question he loves his daughters and his wife. This isn’t to say Kobe’s any more or less of a good teammate than he was yesterday. He’s still got selfish tendencies, and is still an amazing leader and an incredible passer. But to look at Kobe’s actions which are much more honest thank Jordan’s were when he was playing, and to say they are arrogant when compared to what Jordan showed of himself last night. I can’t imagine when it’s time to close the book on Kobe’s illustrious career, that there will be anything in him but humility and graciousness.

The lesson, as always, is to only view these players for what they do on the floor, and to not spend your time looking at them as people too deeply, unless they’re putting themselves out there for good deeds. A few weeks ago I watched the Tracy McGrady doc, 3-Points. This is a guy who is constantly ragged on about his work ethic, leadership, character, and value because he gets hurt a lot and hasn’t been on a team that advanced to the second round. This is also a guy who has given an insane amount of his time to a cause that doesn’t get near enough attention. These issues are all either more complicated or simpler than they seem, and I wrestle with which it is.

In closing, IN YOUR FACE, HIGH SCHOOL TEACHER WHO SAID I WOULD END UP WORKING IN A GAS STATION!

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.