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
July 12, 2014 -- Updated 1815 GMT (0215 HKT)
To prevent war with North Korea over a comedy, what would Dennis Rodman say to Kim Jong Un? Movie critic Gene Seymour weighs in.
July 11, 2014 -- Updated 1315 GMT (2115 HKT)
Michael Werz says in light of the spying cases, U.S. is seen as a paranoid society that can't tell friends from foes.
July 11, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Eric Liu explains why in his new book, he calls himself "Chinese American" -- without a hyphen.
July 11, 2014 -- Updated 1512 GMT (2312 HKT)
John Bare says hands-on learning can make a difference in motivating students to acquire STEM skills.
July 11, 2014 -- Updated 1320 GMT (2120 HKT)
Karl Alexander and Linda Olson find blacks and whites live in urban poverty with similar backgrounds, but white privilege wins out as they grow older.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1620 GMT (0020 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says a poll of 14 Muslim-majority nations show people are increasingly opposed to extremism.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1828 GMT (0228 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says spending more on immigation enforcement isn't going to stop the flow of people seeking refuge in the U.S.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 2048 GMT (0448 HKT)
Faisal Gill had top security clearance and worked for the Department of Homeland Security. That's why it was a complete shock to learn the NSA had him under surveillance.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1841 GMT (0241 HKT)
Kevin Sabet says the scientific verdict is that marijuana can be dangerous, and Colorado should be a warning to states contemplating legalizing pot.
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2047 GMT (0447 HKT)
World War I ushered in an era of chemical weapons use that inflicted agonizing injury and death. Its lethal legacy lingers into conflicts today, Paul Schulte says
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1137 GMT (1937 HKT)
Tom Foley and Ben Zimmer say Detroit's recent bankruptcy draws attention to a festering problem in America -- cities big and small are failing to keep up with change.
July 10, 2014 -- Updated 1201 GMT (2001 HKT)
Mel Robbins says many people think there's "something suspicious" about Leanna Harris. But there are other interpretations of her behavior
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 1753 GMT (0153 HKT)
Amy Bass says Germany's rout of Brazil on its home turf was brutal, but in defeat the Brazilian fans' respect for the victors showed why soccer is called 'the beautiful game'
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 2107 GMT (0507 HKT)
Aaron Carroll explains how vaccines can prevent illnesses like measles, which are on the rise
July 9, 2014 -- Updated 0008 GMT (0808 HKT)
Aaron Miller says if you think the ongoing escalation between Israel and Hamas over Gaza will force a moment of truth, better think again
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 1903 GMT (0303 HKT)
Norman Matloff says a secret wage theft pact between Google, Apple and others highlights ethics problems in Silicon Valley.
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 2237 GMT (0637 HKT)
The mother of murdered Palestinian teenager Mohammed Abu Khder cries as she meets Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, West Bank on July 7, 2014.
Naseem Tuffaha says the killing of Israeli teenagers has rightly brought the world's condemnation, but Palestinian victims like his cousin's slain son have been largely reduced to faceless, nameless statistics.
ADVERTISEMENT