Skip to main content

Jordan at 50: A celebration of ruthlessness

By David Aldridge, Special to CNN
February 16, 2013 -- Updated 1520 GMT (2320 HKT)
Michael Jordan of the Chicago Bulls hugs the NBA Championship Trophy after the Bulls defeated the Los Angeles Lakers 4 games to 1 to win the NBA Finals on June 12, 1991, at the Great Western Forum in Inglewood, California. Michael Jordan of the Chicago Bulls hugs the NBA Championship Trophy after the Bulls defeated the Los Angeles Lakers 4 games to 1 to win the NBA Finals on June 12, 1991, at the Great Western Forum in Inglewood, California.
HIDE CAPTION
Michael Jordan through the years
Michael Jordan through the years
Michael Jordan through the years
Michael Jordan through the years
Michael Jordan through the years
Michael Jordan through the years
Michael Jordan through the years
Michael Jordan through the years
Michael Jordan through the years
Michael Jordan through the years
Michael Jordan through the years
Michael Jordan through the years
Michael Jordan through the years
Michael Jordan through the years
Michael Jordan through the years
Michael Jordan through the years
Michael Jordan through the years
Michael Jordan through the years
Michael Jordan through the years
Michael Jordan through the years
Michael Jordan through the years
Michael Jordan through the years
Michael Jordan through the years
Michael Jordan through the years
Michael Jordan through the years
Michael Jordan through the years
Michael Jordan through the years
Michael Jordan through the years
Michael Jordan through the years
Michael Jordan through the years
Michael Jordan through the years
Michael Jordan through the years
Michael Jordan through the years
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
32
33
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Basketball great Michael Jordan turns 50 on Sunday
  • David Aldridge: Jordan was epitome of "that desire to win that mutated into obsession"
  • Jordan was the best player, most determined and toughest mentally, Aldridge says
  • Aldridge: "His will was second to none. He took everyone on, and ultimately beat them"

Editor's note: David Aldridge has covered the NBA for more than 20 years and is a reporter for the NBA on TNT and a columnist for NBA.com. Watch TNT's extensive coverage of NBA All-Star 2013. The 2013 NBA All-Star Game airs exclusively on TNT at 8 p.m. ET Sunday, February 17.

(CNN) -- To contemplate Michael Jordan turning 50 on Sunday is to witness one's youth floating out with the tide, the water as merciless in its mission as Jordan was in his prime. He is in the sweet spot of the old "Saturday Night Live" sketch featuring Mike Myers, "Middle Aged Man," about a guy who was older and wiser, and who obsessed about people looking at his gut.

Jordan has been laid low these days because the team he owns, the Charlotte Bobcats, are one of the NBA's worst, and because he has been terrible at building a franchise.

There is no doubt some schadenfreude at work here, with those who couldn't defeat Jordan as rival players or executives, or those who covered the league and watched the deferential treatment Jordan and the Bulls received. They now delight in burying him.

What a bunch of morons.

The end game: How sports stars battle through retirement

David Aldridge
David Aldridge

We all led comfortable lives because of Jordan: Me, all the sycophantic TV guys and writers in Chicago, everyone who worked at NBC in the '90s, everyone who played against him and who wrote about him. That doesn't mean you canonize the guy; it means you acknowledge that his excellence contributed directly to your well being, like the NASCAR driver who thanks the guys who designed the car.

The NBA in the time of Jordan was at its zenith as a cultural force and a ratings behemoth, capable of drawing in what television people call "casual viewers," who didn't know a pick and roll from a pimento roll, but who nonetheless turned on Jordan and the Chicago Bulls when they were winning championships.

Athletes tend to get watered down with time, their rough edges rubbed out by biographers and historians who often fail to apply the rigorous discipline of their craft to sports, so much do they want to remain fans.

Mickey Mantle's alcoholism was never front and center until it had almost killed him. God, I hope that never happens with Jordan. There are those who were appalled by his Hall of Fame speech, in which he sneered at those who had ever doubted him. I thought it was great. He finally showed everyone who he really was.

There has been far too much hagiography written about Jordan, both in the past and now, far too much hero worship for a man who was, at his core, not an especially empathic person. That is not written pejoratively, for almost all the great athletes in any sport were singularly driven individuals who didn't play well with others. Do you hear stories of Tiger Woods yukking it up in clubhouses with his opponents?

Bleacher Report: Jordan's unofficial guide to NBA success

Magic Johnson and Larry Bird and Isiah Thomas were each reviled by at least a few teammates for their brutal verbal takedowns of lesser players --and almost everyone in their respective locker rooms were lesser players.

Jordan was merely the ultimate example of that ruthlessness, that desire to win that mutated into obsession.

He finally won a title when he was surrounded by teammates who endured as much as they enjoyed, who could take his relentless prodding and testing and fight back, either verbally or on the court.

Make no mistake -- many of them made millions of dollars and became Hall of Fame credible playing next to him. Jordan's Bulls came to town, won the game, took over the fans, took your pride, took your girl, took everything that wasn't nailed down. But it came with a price.

But I liked that about Jordan. He was the best player I ever saw, the most determined, the toughest mentally, the most confident, the least insecure. His will was second to none. He took everyone on, and ultimately beat them.

That is the Jordan that is worth remembering, no matter what he winds up doing in Charlotte: Young and handsome and dynamic and so willing to cut out your heart and show it to you.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of David Aldridge.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 1925 GMT (0325 HKT)
Maria Cardona says Republicans should appreciate President Obama's executive action on immigration.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 1244 GMT (2044 HKT)
Van Jones says the Hunger Games is a more sweeping critique of wealth inequality than Elizabeth Warren's speech.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 2329 GMT (0729 HKT)
obama immigration
David Gergen: It's deeply troubling to grant legal safe haven to unauthorized immigrants by executive order.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0134 GMT (0934 HKT)
Charles Kaiser recalls a four-hour lunch that offered insight into the famed director's genius.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 2012 GMT (0412 HKT)
The plan by President Obama to provide legal status to millions of undocumented adults living in the U.S. leaves Republicans in a political quandary.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0313 GMT (1113 HKT)
Despite criticism from those on the right, Obama's expected immigration plans won't make much difference to deportation numbers, says Ruben Navarette.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0121 GMT (0921 HKT)
As new information and accusers against Bill Cosby are brought to light, we are reminded of an unshakable feature of American life: rape culture.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 2256 GMT (0656 HKT)
When black people protest against police violence in Ferguson, Missouri, they're thought of as a "mob."
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 2011 GMT (0411 HKT)
Lost in much of the coverage of ISIS brutality is how successful the group has been at attracting other groups, says Peter Bergen.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Do recent developments mean that full legalization of pot is inevitable? Not necessarily, but one would hope so, says Jeffrey Miron.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
We don't know what Bill Cosby did or did not do, but these allegations should not be easily dismissed, says Leslie Morgan Steiner.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1519 GMT (2319 HKT)
Does Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas have the influence to bring stability to Jerusalem?
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1759 GMT (0159 HKT)
Even though there are far fewer people being stopped, does continued use of "broken windows" strategy mean minorities are still the target of undue police enforcement?
November 18, 2014 -- Updated 0258 GMT (1058 HKT)
The truth is, we ran away from the best progressive persuasion voice in our times because the ghost of our country's original sin still haunts us, writes Cornell Belcher.
November 18, 2014 -- Updated 2141 GMT (0541 HKT)
Children living in the Syrian city of Aleppo watch the sky. Not for signs of winter's approach, although the cold winds are already blowing, but for barrel bombs.
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 1321 GMT (2121 HKT)
We're stuck in a kind of Middle East Bermuda Triangle where messy outcomes are more likely than neat solutions, says Aaron David Miller.
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 1216 GMT (2016 HKT)
In the midst of the fight against Islamist rebels seeking to turn the clock back, a Kurdish region in Syria has approved a law ordering equality for women. Take that, ISIS!
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 0407 GMT (1207 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says President Obama would be justified in acting on his own to limit deportations
ADVERTISEMENT