Be Like Mike

Everyone has a favorite Michael Jordan story. Except me. I am one of the world's few basketball fans who believe Jordan is overrated. Yes, I think he was the greatest player in NBA history, but not by as wide a margin as his fans would have us believe. They want you to remember his flair for big-game heroics, recalling his shot over Craig Ehlo against Cleveland to beat them in the playoffs. They would have you forget that Jordan had to hit that shot because Ehlo had just gone around him to score at the other end. They want you to remember that it was his shot that beat Utah to claim the Chicago Bulls' most recent championship. Fine, but allow that he fouled Karl Malone to strip the ball--an overhand slap at the ball is always called a foul in the NBA, unless Jordan is the one slapping--and he pushed off to create his final shot. Also recall that he shared in championships because of game-winning shots by guys like John Paxson and Steve Kerr. In other words, Jordan may be the greatest player the game has ever seen, but he is not greater than the game itself.

Sadly, Jordan, who turns 40 in February, no longer realizes this. You wouldn't know it from reading or watching or listening to the East Coast media. Every time he manages a dunk these days, an ESPN anchor yells, "Jordan proving his critics wrong, as always!"...or something to that effect. I didn't catch SportsCenter this past Sunday night, but I wonder if they rejoiced at the highlight of his only basket--in a season-high 40 minutes played. Yet Jordan, who scolded the media for suggesting that his two-point outburst was less than Jordan-like, sees nothing wrong with the fact that he takes up valuable minutes on a Washington Wizards team that needs to develop its young players. He sees someone who should play nearly a full game even though he is averaging at or near career lows in points, rebounds, assists and free-throw percentage. If he looked more closely, he would see only a shadow of his former self.

In fact, if you want to see one of the best 6-foot-6 guards in the game this Monday when the Wizards visit the Dallas Mavericks, you need to look not at Jordan but at the man opposite him at shooting guard. Michael Finley will never be the player Jordan was, but he is a better basketball player now, someone who doesn't let his ego get in the way of the team's success. Finley, who used to be the only stud on the Mavs, now lets the offense run through Steve Nash and Dirk Nowitzki as often as it runs through him.

So if you're within the throng at American Airlines Center this week cheering Jordan's every made 18-foot jump shot, shame on you. You're doing a disservice to the game and the memory of the dominating player who was MJ. And you're ignoring a better player, one who suits up in Mavs home white.

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Eric Celeste
Contact: Eric Celeste

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