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
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 2203 GMT (0603 HKT)
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 1424 GMT (2224 HKT)
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 2152 GMT (0552 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette notes that this fall, minority students will outnumber white students at America's public schools.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 2121 GMT (0521 HKT)
Humans have driven to extinction four marine mammal species in modern times. As you read this, we are on the brink of losing the fifth, write three experts.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 1158 GMT (1958 HKT)
It's been ten days since Michael Brown was killed, and his family is still waiting for information from investigators about what happened to their young man, writes Mel Robbins
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1354 GMT (2154 HKT)
Sally Kohn says the Ferguson protests reflect broader patterns of racial injustice across the country, from chronic police violence and abuse against black men to the persistent economic and social exclusion of communities of color.
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 1242 GMT (2042 HKT)
The former U.K. prime minister and current U.N. envoy says there are 500 days left to fulfill the Millennium Goals' promise to children.
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 1310 GMT (2110 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says the left mistrusts Clinton but there are ways she can win support from liberals in 2016
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1359 GMT (2159 HKT)
Peter Bergen says the terror group is a huge threat in Iraq but only a potential one in the U.S.
August 16, 2014 -- Updated 1734 GMT (0134 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says the way cops, media, politicians and protesters have behaved since Michael Brown's shooting shows not all the right people have learned the right lessons
August 17, 2014 -- Updated 1523 GMT (2323 HKT)
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says the American military advisers in Iraq are sizing up what needs to be done and recommending accordingly
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 1941 GMT (0341 HKT)
Marc Lamont Hill says the President's comments on the Michael Brown shooting ignored its racial implications
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 2146 GMT (0546 HKT)
Joe Stork says the catastrophe in northern Iraq continues, even though many religious minorities have fled to safety: ISIS forces -- intent on purging them -- still control the area where they lived
August 14, 2014 -- Updated 2226 GMT (0626 HKT)
Tim Lynch says Pentagon's policy of doling out military weapons to police forces is misguided and dangerous.
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 1315 GMT (2115 HKT)
S.E. Cupp says millennials want big ideas and rapid change; she talks to one of their number who serves in Congress
August 14, 2014 -- Updated 2357 GMT (0757 HKT)
Dorothy Brown says the power structure is dominated by whites in a town that is 68% black. Elected officials who sat by silently as chaos erupted after Michael Brown shooting should be voted out of office
August 14, 2014 -- Updated 1149 GMT (1949 HKT)
Bill Schmitz says the media and other adults should never explain suicide as a means of escaping pain. Robin Williams' tragic death offers a chance to educate about prevention
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 1505 GMT (2305 HKT)
Nafees Syed says President Obama should renew the quest to eliminate bias in the criminal justice system
August 14, 2014 -- Updated 2024 GMT (0424 HKT)
Eric Liu says what's unfolded in the Missouri town is a shocking violation of American constitutional rights and should be a wake-up call to all
August 13, 2014 -- Updated 1922 GMT (0322 HKT)
Neal Gabler says Lauren Bacall, a talent in her own right, will be defined by her marriage with the great actor Humphrey Bogart
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 1056 GMT (1856 HKT)
Bob Butler says the arrest of two journalists covering the Ferguson story is alarming
August 13, 2014 -- Updated 2035 GMT (0435 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says we all need to work together to make sure the tension between police and African-Americans doesn't result in more tragedies
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
Pepper Schwartz asks why young women are so entranced with Kardashian, who's putting together a 352-page book of selfies
August 13, 2014 -- Updated 2308 GMT (0708 HKT)
Michael Friedman says depression does not discriminate, cannot be bargained with and shows no mercy.
August 12, 2014 -- Updated 1525 GMT (2325 HKT)
LZ Granderson says we must not surrender to apathy about the injustice faced by African Americans
ADVERTISEMENT