This wasnâ€™t a Hall of Fame induction speech, but a bully tripping nerds with lunch trays in the school cafeteria. He had a responsibility to his standing in history, to players past and present, and he let everyone down. This was a night to leave behind the petty grievances and past slights â€“ real and imagined. This was a night to be gracious, to be generous with praise and credit.
â€œM.J. was introduced as the greatest player ever and heâ€™s still standing there trying to settle scores,â€ one Hall of Famer said privately later.
Jordan didnâ€™t hurt his image with the NBA community, as much as he reminded them of it. â€œThatâ€™s who Michael is,â€ one high-ranking team executive said. â€œIt wasnâ€™t like he was out of character. Thereâ€™s no one else who couldâ€™ve gotten away with what he did tonight. But it was Michael, and everyone just goes along.â€
Jordan wandered through an unfocused and uninspired speech at Symphony Hall, disparaging people who had little to do with his career, like Jeff Van Gundy and Bryon Russell. He ignored people who had so much to do with it, like his personal trainer, Tim Grover. This had been a moving and inspirational night for the NBA â€“ one of its best ceremonies ever â€“ and five minutes into Jordanâ€™s speech it began to spiral into something else. Something unworthy of Jordanâ€™s stature, something beneath him.
Jordan spent more time pointlessly admonishing Van Gundy and Russell for crossing him with taunts a dozen years ago than he did singling out his three children. When he finally acknowledged his family, Jordan blurted, in part, to them, â€œI wouldnâ€™t want to be you guys.â€
Well, um, thanks Dad. He meant it, too. If not the NBA, he shouldâ€™ve thought of his children before he started spraying fire at everyone.
No one ever feels sorry for Isiah Thomas, but Jordan tsk-tsked him and George Gervin and Magic Johnson for the 1985 All-Star game â€œfreeze-out.â€ Jordan was a rookie, and the older stars decided to isolate him. It was a long time ago, and he obliterated them all for six NBA championships and five MVP trophies. Isiah and the Ice Man looked stunned, as intimidated 50 feet from the stage, as they might have been on the basketball court.
The cheering and laughter egged Jordan on, but this was no public service for him. Just because he was smiling didnâ€™t mean this speech hadnâ€™t dissolved into a downright vicious volley.
Worst of all, he flew his old high school teammate, Leroy Smith, to Springfield for the induction. Remember, Smith was the upperclassman his coach, Pop Herring, kept on varsity over him as a high school sophomore. He waggled to the old coach, â€œI wanted to make sure you understood: You made a mistake, dude.â€
Whatever, Michael. Everyone gets it. Truth be told, everyone got it years ago, but somehow he thinks this is a cleansing exercise. When basketball wanted to celebrate Jordan as the greatest player ever, wanted to honor him for changing basketball everywhere, he was petty and punitive. Yes, there was some wink-wink teasing with his beloved Dean Smith, but make no mistake: Jordan revealed himself to be strangely bitter. You won, Michael. You won it all. Yet, he keeps chasing something that heâ€™ll never catch, and sometimes, well, it all seems so hollow for him.