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Thursday, February 10, 2005

The selfish man

selfish scumbag

Off the Record

by Tom Scocca

Some snubs are more noticeable than others. When Washington Post writer Michael Leahy was assigned to cover Michael Jordan in Washington, D.C.—first as an executive for the Washington Wizards, then as a player in a two-season comeback—he got used to being ignored by the N.B.A. megastar. Unless Mr. Leahy asked Mr. Jordan a direct question in the media scrum, the player treated the reporter as "a pane of glass," he writes in When Nothing Else Matters: Michael Jordan’s Last Comeback.

But when Mr. Leahy got word—third-hand, through a colleague who’d read it in a magazine—that Post sports columnist Michael Wilbon purportedly also wasn’t speaking to him, it was the first he knew of it.

"It came as a complete surprise to read that he wasn’t talking to me," Mr. Leahy said on the phone. " … Nothing in his behavior had exhibited any disappointment with either my stories or me."

Mr. Wilbon is one of The Post’s superstars, deeply embedded in the world of sports celebrity, hosting a daily talk show on ESPN with his colleague, Tony Kornheiser. He reported on the Chicago Bulls when Mr. Jordan was young and has grown famously close to the athlete through the years. Mr. Leahy is a well-regarded but fairly obscure feature writer; he had no previous N.B.A. beat-reporting experience.

Though Mr. Leahy’s Post stories dealt with the ties between Mr. Jordan and the press, he never named Mr. Wilbon in the newspaper. Nonetheless, in 2003, Mr. Wilbon declared in a chat on the Post Web site that "I don’t particularly care to read Michael Leahy’s work on the topic of pro-basketball or Jordan."

Mr. Leahy, he added, had a book deal to write about Mr. Jordan—"So, sportswriters who have covered Jordan aren’t the only ones who have agendas, are they?"


Mr. Wilbon did not respond to requests for comment left at his newsroom desk and at his television studio. Emilio Garcia-Ruiz, one of Mr. Leahy’s editors on the Jordan beat and now The Post’s sports editor, said that Mr. Leahy’s book raised crucial questions about sports reporting. The whole business of cultivating access for the sake of quote-mongering, he said, is "a fruitless exercise in a lot of cases."

However other writers may dispute Mr. Leahy’s media judgments, his basketball judgment has turned out to be remarkably sound. Mr. Garcia-Ruiz said that early in his first training camp, Mr. Leahy concluded that teenage No. 1 draft pick Kwame Brown would never develop as a player under the rough tutelage of Mr. Collins and Mr. Jordan—the latter of whom, in one passage, berated Mr. Brown in camp as a "fucking flaming faggot."

Mr. Brown has yet to establish himself as an N.B.A.-caliber performer. "Michael foresaw that," said Mr. Garcia-Ruiz.

Mr. Leahy also dwelt on the pernicious influence of the walk-it-up style that Mr. Jordan and Mr. Collins favored, for the sake of the aged superstar. Players with the health and the talent to outrun the gimpy legend, like Mr. Hamilton, were repeatedly benched or traded; given a choice between point guards, Mr. Jordan in the book consistently pushes for the more docile, less talented one each time.

Now the rest of the Wizards—two years removed from the influence of Mr. Jordan’s creaky knees, and with waves of young players replacing the hoary veterans that Mr. Jordan favored—are prospering. Fast-breaking as they please, they have a winning record and are one of the highest-scoring teams in the league.

"That whole team can run," Mr. Leahy said. "They’re a pleasure to watch.

My nephew's first sport hero was Michael Jordan, he could recognize his number by the time he was able to walk. One time, his father tried to buy him 32 instead of 23 and it didn't fly.

But to me, Jordan was one of the most selfish, least gracious, useless athletes in modern sports. While he was supremely talented, that brilliance never left the court. Unlike Jack Johnson, who's remarkable life was subject of a recent Ken Burns film on PBS, Joe Louis, Jackie Robinson, Curt Flood, Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, Jordan had their fame, but never their moral resovlve. Even Shaquille O'Neal has more of a public profile than Jordan as a philanthropist

Michael Jordan has never given a shit about anyone or anything but himself. His mistresses have disappeared, the bitter conflicts with teammates vanished, his crude and insulting behavior covered up. Of the athletes who have held the world stage as he has, Ali, Pele, Beckham, he has been the least involved and most selfish of them all. He's never cared about Nike's working conditions, American politics or anything else. Compared to Charles Barkley, who was always able to give a straight answer, or Dennis Rodman, who quietly paid for James Bryd funeral after he was murdered by Klansmen, Jordan has never said dick about anything but his wallet.

It was clear that the Wizards was creaking along under Jordan, and that Jordan used his leverage with his pet Wilbon to cover that up.

Which points out a central fact: columnists shouldn't go in the tank for anyone. Access is one of the things reporters come to prize, without realizing that it never comes without a price. Because Wilbon was part of the conspiracy which hid the real Jordan from the public, he didn't want to see his meal ticket go away. It wasn't only the NBA which had a stake in the Jordan myth, but many of the hagiographers who had created that myth. The irony, which was unlike Barkley or Rodman, Jordan rarely had anything interesting to say. And little to say after his career.

Even the homophobe Reggie White cared more about his community than Jordan did.

How pernicious was Jordan? Well, he was the first man to market $200 sneakers to teenagers. When people were being killed over them, Jordan never once said a word about this, not one PSA. As long as it filled his bottom line, he never gave a damn. Forget the slave laborers in Indonesia. When people appealed to him, he just blew them off like trash.

It is likely, and if someone has nice Jordan stories, I'd love to be corrected, that he will go down as this era's Ty Cobb, a brilliant, selfish, self-centered player who cared more for himself than anyone or thing else.

Athletes can make a difference.

I keep geeting asked about these Stand Up Speak Up wristbands being pushed by Nike and the EPL. I don't have any, I wish someone would get one for me, so I can place it next to my Livestrong wristband. But it certainly made a difference when Rio Ferdinand and Theirry Henry took a public stand on racism. In the UK, these guys are heroes to everyone. Hell, even David Beckham's fashion sense was seen as inclusive. No one expected Jordan to be Ali, but he was mute when it might have mattered. Tiger Woods may be a pain in the ass in person, but he knows every day he walks on a golf course, what he does matters. He knows people, especially black people, follow his every move. While the dynamics of the NBA are obviously different, Jordan never expressed even the slightest social conscience, forget political. The perfect model of ther selfish modern athlete.

posted by Steve @ 2:07:00 AM

2:07:00 AM

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