Skip to main content

Jordan at 50: A celebration of ruthlessness

By David Aldridge, Special to CNN
updated 10:20 AM EST, Sat February 16, 2013
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
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Wed April 23, 2014
Robert Hickey says most new housing development is high-end, catering to high-earners.
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Wed April 23, 2014
Alexander Motyl says as Russian President Putin snarled at Ukraine, his foreign minister was signing a conciliatory accord with the West. Whatever the game, the accord is a major stand down by Russia
updated 8:29 AM EDT, Wed April 23, 2014
Les Abend says at every turn, the stowaway teen defied the odds of discovery and survival. What pilot would have thought to look for a person in the wheel well?
updated 7:04 AM EDT, Thu April 24, 2014
Q & A with artist Rachel Sussman on her new book of photographs, "The Oldest Living Things in the World."
updated 3:58 PM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
Martin Blaser says the overuse of antibiotics threatens to deplete our bodies of "good" microbes, leaving us vulnerable to an unstoppable plague--an "antibiotic winter"
updated 1:37 PM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
John Sutter asks: Is it possible to eat meat in modern-day America and consider yourself an environmentalist without being a hypocrite?
updated 11:38 AM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
Sally Kohn notes that Meb Keflezighi rightly was called an American after he won the Boston Marathon, but his status in the U.S. once was questioned
updated 8:56 AM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
Denis Hayes and Scott Denman say on this Earth Day, the dawn of the Solar Age is already upon us and the Atomic Age of nuclear power is in decline
updated 4:36 PM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Retired Coast Guard officer James Loy says a ship captain bears huge responsibility.
updated 1:08 PM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Peter Bergen says the latest strikes are part of an aggressive U.S. effort to target militants, including a bomb maker
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Cynthia Lummis and Peter Welch say 16 agencies carry out national intelligence, and their budgets are top secret. We need to know how they are spending our money.
updated 8:35 AM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Julian Zelizer says President Obama knows more than anyone that he has much at stake in the midterm elections.
updated 8:55 AM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
Eric Sanderson says if you really want to strike a blow for the environment--and your health--this Earth Day, work to get cars out of cities and create transportation alternatives
updated 10:08 AM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Bruce Barcott looks at the dramatic differences in marijuana laws in Colorado and Louisiana
updated 4:47 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jim Bell says NASA's latest discovery supports the notion that habitable worlds are probably common in the galaxy.
updated 2:17 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jay Parini says even the Gospels skip the actual Resurrection and are sketchy on the appearances that followed.
updated 1:52 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Graham Allison says if an unchecked and emboldened Russia foments conflict in a nation like Latvia, a NATO member, the West would have to defend it.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
John Sutter: Bad news, guys -- the pangolin we adopted is missing.
updated 2:25 PM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Ben Wildavsky says we need a better way to determine whether colleges are turning out graduates with superior education and abilities.
updated 6:26 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Charles Maclin, program manager working on the search and recovery of Malaysia Flight 370, explains how it works.
updated 8:50 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jill Koyama says Michael Bloomberg is right to tackle gun violence, but we need to go beyond piecemeal state legislation.
updated 2:45 PM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts say Americans are ready for sensible gun laws, but politicians are cowed by the NRA. Everytown for Gun Safety will prove the NRA is not that powerful.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT