Friday Deep- I Feel You, MJ.

Posted on October 24, 2009

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About 2 months ago I went on a major Michael Jordan reading bender.  I read two books about him in the span of about a week and a half: David Halberstam’s ‘Playing For Keeps’ and Sam Smith’s ‘The Jordan Rules.’  It amazed me how different the Michael Jordan presented in those pages differed from the Michael Jordan I felt like I knew from his celebrity.   The Jordan I found on the pages was real in a way that the hero whose poster hung on my wall was not.  Celebrity MJ was always smiling, wearing Hanes and eating Big Macs.  But real MJ was a little different.  He was, in addition to his public virtues, also vulgar, petty, a cold-blooded competitor and such a devasating trash talker that he once reduced a teammate to tears.  Not a very nice guy, as it turned out.

This new knowledge is why I was not surprised when, last month, as a new Hall of Fame inductee, Michael Jordan did not deliver a polished, carefully worded acceptance speech.  Instead, he joked on former opponents, kiddingly told his children that they would never outshine him, and in general celebrated his own greatness.  It was ugly.  Jordan did what I still believe is unprecedented in the history of Hall Of Fame induction oratory- he delivered a speech that, by virtue of it’s honesty, vaporized a public persona and introduced the unknown real thing- a real thing that, for its narcissism and self-indulgence, is not pleasing to the eye.  A real thing I’d first seen on the page months earlier.

The easy road for me is the high road, the road of condemnation and self-righteousness. It’s easy to take aim at this Michael Jordan, the one who called out all his enemies and grudges from the Hall of Fame podium and ‘thanked’ them pushing to higher levels of basketball success.  After all, it feels good to know that you’re a better person than the greatest basketball player who ever lived.  I know that when I first watched the video I felt that way.

Now I think about the microphone.

The word ‘microphone’ is two words together- “mikros”, meaning “small”, and “phone”, meaning “voice”.  ‘Small voice’.   Microphones take our small voice and make it a big voice.  It takes the words we normally speak only to a few people and amplifies it so that thousands can hear them.  Notice that it doesn’t take our big words and make them bigger- people can already see those.  For Michael Jordan, his big words might be six championship rings, McDonald’s and Nike commercials, books about his life, charitable donations and, mostly, that million dollar smile.  For me it might be the songs I sing in church, the Bible open on my desk, or the children I sponsor with Compassion International.  I don’t mind if people hear those words- they’re the words I want people to hear.  But that’s not what microphones pick up- they pick up small words.

What if, like Jordan at the Hall of Fame podium, people heard my small words?  Heard the way I treated someone just because they weren’t interesting or attractive?  Or heard the secret storehouses of bitterness and hurt that I keep in my heart?  Sometimes the small words of my life make me look just as petty, just as self-obsessed, and just as angry as Michael Jordan did.

Thankfully there are no microphones attached to me, and my small words are not broadcast to friends, family, strangers.  But just knowing they’re around keeps me from being surprised when small words pop up in strange places, like the Hall Of Fame.  There are no saints- just sinners and jump-shooters, sometimes both.

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