As the NBA prepares for a possible return to play in the midst of a hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic, which awards races are still in play?
The NBA is expected to approve a return-to-play plan on Thursday, with growing support for a 22-team field that will include regular-season and play-in games to compete for playoff berths in both conference.
Back in March, LeBron James was trying to close the gap in the MVP race with Giannis Antetokounmpo, Zion Williamson‘s return from injury had some believing that he could make it a real Rookie of the Year race with Ja Morant, and there was a deep field of contenders in the other major awards.
Our experts break down ESPN’s latest awards projections, the races they’re most interested to watch, which rookie star they’d rather build around and the big MVP questions.
1. Which awards race are you most interested to watch, assuming there are additional regular-season games?
Kevin Pelton: Rookie of the Year, because the players involved will be playing more meaningful games. I’m not sure whether voting would be held before or after a possible play-in tournament, but either way Zion Williamson and the New Orleans Pelicans would be jockeying for position in that tournament, whereas a shortened regular season would make it difficult for the Los Angeles Lakers to catch the Milwaukee Bucks and possibly swing the MVP race.
Tim MacMahon: I can’t say that I anticipate anything happening in a handful of regular-season games that would change my vote for any of the awards. I guess I’ll go with ROY simply because, like the league office, I’m excited to see more Williamson. But Morant’s body of work is too impressive for someone who has played a fraction of the season to steal the trophy.
Bobby Marks: Coach of the Year. There is a field of 10 who can win the award for top coach. Mike Budenholzer in Milwaukee and Frank Vogel of the Lakers have the two best teams, but the Billy Donovan (Oklahoma City Thunder) and Nick Nurse (Toronto Raptors) have exceeded expectations. Nate McMillan (Indiana Pacers), Erik Spoelstra (Miami Heat), Taylor Jenkins (Memphis Grizzlies), Doc Rivers (LA Clippers), Mike Malone (Denver Nuggets) and Brad Stevens (Boston Celtics) all could receive first-place votes.
Andre Snellings: MVP. Antetokounmpo had been in the driver’s seat all season, but during the final few weeks before the shutdown, James was making a surge. Presumably, the added rest and attenuated schedule should allow Antetokounmpo to finish strong, but it will be interesting to see if James can heat up this debate.
Tim Bontemps: It’s hard to see any of them changing because of a few games in Florida, but I would be curious to see if Giannis would be able to secure the double of Defensive Player of the Year and MVP in the same season — something that only Hall of Famers Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olaujuwon have done.
2. Zion Williamson or Ja Morant: Which rookie would you rather build a team around?
Bontemps: Morant. There’s no question Williamson is a hell of a talent, but the concerns about his long-term health — plus the potential complications that come with building around a 6-foot-6 center, which very well could be his long-term position — make me tip the scales in Morant’s favor. Having a dynamic ball handler to build around without those same injury concerns (though Morant does scare me every time he flies in the air for a highlight dunk) makes him my choice.
Pelton: Williamson. While there are understandable concerns about his health and durability long term, Williamson was clearly the better prospect entering the draft and has been dominant while on the court this season — not by rookie standards, but for just about anyone.
MacMahon: I believe they both have superstar potential, but if I have to pick one over the other for the long haul, it would be Williamson. He’s just such a unique talent. The closest we’ve got to seeing this sort of power/athleticism/skill combo is Hall of Famer Charles Barkley — and Williamson is bigger and more explosive.
Marks: Williamson has the potential to be a franchise player, but I saw firsthand in New Jersey with Hall of Famer Jason Kidd the impact a point guard can have with a team. Morant has already turned a Memphis squad many predicted would finish at the bottom of the Western Conference into a team contending for a playoff spot. He’s my pick.
Snellings: I’d rather build around Williamson, just because he’s the more unique talent. Morant is exciting, and his combo of skills and athleticism makes his upside brilliant, but Williamson has the once-in-a-generation upside for his class. The total package of his physical gifts, skills, upside and charisma could allow him to grow into both an MVP and an ambassador for the game who can carry a franchise to the heights.
Bam Adebayo tells Omar Raja how he’s not only able to contain Steph Curry, but also get way above the rim to swat (or catch) layup attempts.
3. Of the major awards candidates, whose emergence has you most impressed right now?
Snellings: Bam Adebayo, because his push for Most Improved Player has corresponded with him growing into a franchise-caliber big for the new era. In a league where the traditional post player has been devalued, Adebayo has been able to establish himself as a mobile defensive disruptor in the middle while still contributing in versatile ways on offense.
Bontemps: There were plenty of people in the NBA who thought Adebayo would be a good player for the Heat once they got Hassan Whiteside out of his way. But I’m not sure anyone was quite sure Adebayo would be this good. As Miami tries to build its next true championship contender, it is actually Adebayo — and not Jimmy Butler — who should be Miami’s biggest selling point to lure another star player to the shores of Biscayne Bay.
Pelton: Brandon Ingram. Ingram’s development as a shooter this season has been unexpected and crucial to his value. He’s attempted 3s more than three times as often compared to last season, while making them at a career-high 39% clip. Ingram has also gone from a sub-70% free throw shooter each of his first three seasons to 86% at the line this season.
MacMahon: The Greek Freak’s rapid rise from a skinny, mysterious project who lasted until the middle of the first round in 2013 to a historically dominant force shouldn’t be taken for granted. If these projections are right, Antetokounmpo will have a couple of MVPs and a Defensive Player of the Year award before his 26th birthday. And he just might have a championship, too.
Marks: Dennis Schroder, who has gone from starting 145 games in Atlanta during the 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons to accepting a role of coming off the bench for the Thunder. While his points (19.0) and minutes (31.0) are nearly identical to his last season with the Hawks, Schroder has come off the bench in all but one game this season and is having his most efficient career performance.
4. Fact or fiction: LeBron James and James Harden have won their last MVP awards.
Marks: Fiction. Unless James is retired, I will never count him out when it comes to competing for MVP. Harden is still in the prime of his career and has averaged 30.4, 36.1 and 34.4 points in the past three seasons, respectively. There is no sign that the shooting guard cannot continue at that pace in the future.
Snellings: Fiction. James is older (35 to Harden’s 30), but he very easily could have won this season’s MVP award, and there’s no reason he couldn’t make a similar push next season. And Harden’s game relies so little on athleticism that he could play at this level for the next handful of seasons, easily. Between the two, odds are that there is at least one more MVP award forthcoming.
Bontemps: I’ll say fact, for the simple reason that both James and Harden are on the wrong side of 30. In addition to that, as younger stars such as Antetokounmpo, Luka Doncic and Anthony Davis continue to put themselves in these conversations, they are more likely to win MVPs on a year-to-year basis.
Pelton: More fact than fiction. Given James’ age, if he doesn’t win it this year, the difficulty goes up considerably each season. Harden now has to contend with splitting scoring and possibly even votes with Russell Westbrook. But I wouldn’t rule out another MVP for one of the two players.
MacMahon: I sure wouldn’t put my paycheck on that. They’re both perennial MVP candidates, and Antetokounmpo isn’t going to win it every year. Harden, the best scorer of his generation, is in the middle of his prime and manages to add something to his game each summer. James keeps defying nature by showing no decline this deep into his career. I’m not sure they’ll both win another MVP, but the odds are at least one or the other will.
5. Who will be the next first-time MVP winner?
MacMahon: At the risk of being accused of local bias: Luka Doncic. Not that it’s a controversial pick. The kid couldn’t even legally buy a beer in the United States until February, and he’s already flirting with averaging a triple-double for a playoff team. There’s still plenty of room for improvement, particularly with his 3-point shot (31.8%) and continued chemistry development with co-star Kristaps Porzingis, and the Mavericks might be a piece or two away from being bona fide contenders.
Marks: The easy answer is Doncic. However, Anthony Davis has put together an MVP-type season that is overshadowed by the play of Antetokounmpo and LeBron James. If Davis can stay healthy (a big if) and the Lakers continue to sit atop the Western Conference standings for the next three seasons, Davis should have his first MVP trophy in the near future.
Snellings: Close battle between Nikola Jokic and Luka Doncic, with Anthony Davis and Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid on the fringe. Davis is right at his peak, but James’ presence limits him. Embiid has the talent but hasn’t put it all together for a full season yet. Doncic is electric and a legitimate MVP candidate already, but I’m not sure the Mavericks will make the jump to contention that is required for an MVP. Jokic, on the other hand, has played at near-MVP level for multiple seasons. The Denver center is young enough to continue to improve, and his team could legitimately battle for the best record next season to make him an MVP front-runner.
Bontemps: There are really only two front-runners here: Davis and Doncic. My pick will be Doncic, as Davis will likely be playing next to James for the foreseeable future, while Doncic is the face of his franchise. Given that he already is likely to finish among the top five in MVP voting in his second season in the league, there’s every reason to think that Doncic will be collecting the hardware for himself sometime in the near future.
Pelton: Doncic. For Doncic to be in “the conversation” (he’s fifth on my ballot at the moment) at age 21 portends MVPs in his future, and perhaps sooner rather than later.
NBA could allow players to wear social justice messages on jerseys
Oklahoma City Thunder guard Chris Paul, president of the National Basketball Players Association, told ESPN’s The Undefeated on Saturday that the players’ union and the league are collaborating to allow players to wear jerseys with personalized social justice, social cause or charity messages on the backs instead of their last names during the upcoming restart of the NBA season.
The personalized statements on jerseys are part of a long list of social justice messages the players plan to make through the remainder of the season, which restarts July 30 in Orlando, Florida. The NBA and the NBPA announced an agreement on Wednesday to continue to discuss fighting systemic racism and to make it one of the main focuses of the restart. Personalized jerseys could say such things as “Black Lives Matter” or “I Can’t Breathe,” bring light to a social or charitable cause or even display the names of George Floyd or Breonna Taylor, who were killed by police in recent months.
“We’re just trying to continue to shed light on the different social justice issues that guys around our league continue to talk about day in and day out,” Paul told The Undefeated. “People are saying that social justice will be off of everybody’s mind in Orlando. With these jerseys, it doesn’t go away.”
NBA players were involved in nationwide protests, vocal on social media and active in the aftermath of Floyd’s death on May 25 in Minneapolis and Taylor’s death on March 13 in Louisville, Kentucky, at the hands of police. For players who would rather raise awareness with their jerseys for causes or charities not connected to social injustice, police brutality or other racial issues, Paul said that will be accepted as well. Paul, whose Thunder will be playing in the NBA restart, said he has not decided what he would want on the back of his jersey.
Paul said he has talked to numerous players, including some who are not Black, who support the jersey idea. He said players will not be forced and pressured to wear jerseys with social justice messages. There will also be suggestions offered to players looking for a cause to support. NBA commissioner Adam Silver said Friday in a media conference call that the league “has work to do” to make progress in hiring African Americans in notable roles, and the need for diversity was discussed at a recent board of governors meeting. The NBA was made up of 74.9% Black players during the 2018-19 season, according to the 2019 NBA Complete Racial and Gender Report Card released last week by The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports (TIDES) at the University of Central Florida.
“The guys I talked to were definitely excited,” Paul said. “The reason I’m passionate and excited about it is that it gives a voice to the voiceless. It also gives guys a chance to shine a light on something they are passionate about. Otherwise, they may not have been given a chance to express themselves.”
Paul protested peacefully at a Black Lives Matter event in Los Angeles and has been vocal on social media about racial injustice and police brutality. The 15-year NBA veteran said he hopes the jerseys will spark more conversation about each player’s social message or cause. Paul also said the NBPA plans to reach out to the families of Floyd, Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Trayvon Martin and others whose deaths have sparked outrage across the country to get their permission and blessing to use names on the backs of NBA jerseys.
“I was just thinking about how forward-thinking our league is and how passionate the players in our league are about different issues,” Paul said. “Our guys have been marching on the front lines and using their platforms. If guys are choosing to come down to Orlando to make sacrifices and play this game, why not be able to play and still say his or her name at the same time?
“At marches they are saying, ‘Say his name … George Floyd. Say her name … Breonna Taylor.’ Obviously, we have to reach out to the families to see if that is OK.”
What ‘The Last Dance’ reveals about Michael Jordan’s legacy
LEG· A· CY
Something transmitted by or received from an ancestor or predecessor or from the past. — Merriam-Webster
Professional athletes in the television age have absconded with the word legacy and returned it mangled beyond recognition. Seemingly every basket, home run or touchdown is accompanied by a player absorbed by his own moment, breathlessly declaring, I’m just trying to cement my legacy, when he’s actually just adding to his accomplishments. There’s … a difference.
Legacy is what is left after there are no more clutch jumpers to make and no more opponents to stare down. It isn’t what you’ve done but what it will mean. Legacies cannot be immediately assessed, for they have nothing to do with the present. They’re not about you. At the end of 1998, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa thought their legacies were secure, and they were — but not nearly in the way each envisioned. You must wait and see what time does to your time. Legacy is not yours. It’s how the rest of us navigate what you’ve left in your wake.
Few boats have left a larger wake than Michael Jordan. At a remove, weeks after the ESPN premiere, following the ABC encore and now about to head to Netflix (July 19), his documentary, “The Last Dance,” still reverberates. Twenty-two years removed from when he took his last shot in a Chicago Bulls uniform in 1998, the reappearance of Jordan in “The Last Dance” reminds me of an old joke from my Irish friends growing up in Boston, when they would ask if I knew what “Irish Alzheimer’s” was. When I said no, they would respond, “It’s when you forget everything — but the grudge.” They would laugh because it was funny and they would laugh that intra-clannish laugh reserved for people in the tribe because it reminded them of some fond relative for whom they knew it was fearsomely true. Jordan is of a different tribe, but the grudges still hold, alive, fierce. He has forgotten none, forgiven even fewer.
The film affirmed that his dominance was as we remember, while also confirming darker suspicions. To teammates, Jordan resembled Darth Vader in “The Empire Strikes Back,” killing anyone who disappointed him. To adversaries, he was Michael Corleone in “The Godfather,” unsatisfied in defeating all rivals, unsatisfied in his net worth exceeding that of Bulls and White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf — the same Reinsdorf who once, in a streak of envy toward Jordan, attempted to reduce him to a mere laborer, saying, “Unlike him, nobody signs my checks.” Unsatisfied even in total victory. Michael Jordan has more bloodlust in him, but his moment has passed, there’s no one left to kill, and time — the rival that motivated him to do the film in the first place — can never be defeated.
Jordan lived for the kill, but for all the gossipy sensation of Jordan and Horace Grant calling each other “snitches,” for all the cringing as we watched him humiliate role players on his own team, I thought about Jordan through the true meaning of legacy, about what this ancestor left behind.
WE ALL (THINK WE) ARE JORDAN
About 15 years ago, I argued about universal health insurance with someone stupid, which makes me stupid, and I lost count of the number of times he used the term “socialized medicine,” even though life, auto, house, renters and all other types of common forms of insurance in the United States operate along the same socialized premise: The community pays into the whole for a service you generally do not need — until you do. Your contribution helps take care of other people until the time comes for it to help take care of you. He was unmoved, even when I told him America already practices various forms of universal health.
“If you don’t have insurance, broke your arm and went to the ER, they would still treat you,” I said. “They wouldn’t leave you in the street untreated. Who pays for that? We do. The rest of us.”
“Well, you shouldn’t,” he said. “Leave me on the sidewalk. Why should I be forced to pay for something everyone else uses when I’m perfectly healthy?”
He might have been stupid, and in that moment might have left no doubt, but he also represented a common strain of American individualism, of doing it yourself. No help. No handout. No teamwork. No one to pass the ball to, and no one getting the assist. Americans often believe the person next door is receiving something unearned, something free off of their backs. I work harder than you. Right now someone is complaining about work, about how they are the only ones doing their part, surrounded by the weak links who don’t measure up but want the same reward. They watch the Jordan work ethic, see the results, and see themselves. They relate to Jordan’s single-mindedness when he says early in the documentary that he never asked his teammates to do anything he wasn’t willing to do, and they identify with him justifying his abuse of teammates because his exacting professionalism matches their idealized view of their own — without considering they might instead be Scott Burrell.
Validated by championship results, Jordan sanctified the template of the leader-as-monster, out of necessity. It has been mythologized in sports, by abusive coaches everywhere and recently by the late Kobe Bryant, that punching down on those who are less talented is the champion’s way and those who disagree are losers who simply lack what it takes, who, in Jordan’s words in the documentary, “haven’t won anything.”
“People wanted to get some insight into Michael Jordan: the über-competitiveness, the drive, and we brought the mask down,” the film’s executive producer, Mike Tollin, told me. “Nick Saban is clipping Michael’s lines at the end of Episode 7 to show his football team about what greatness means and what it takes. Business leaders are doing the same thing. Captains and kings of industry are now referring to it.”
Yet all the fantasy glamorization of Jordan’s single-mindedness lands differently in 2020, when universal health care — the concept of a nation using taxes to take care of one another — is now widely accepted. The obsessives like Jordan are now more isolated and even, at times, discredited. The culture still loves the result but is less tolerant of the genius-tyrant. Work-life balance is a thing. Even ballplayers now take time off during the season for the birth of their babies — and the world doesn’t collapse. Caring about one’s family doesn’t make you an unserious professional.
Yet Jordan satisfies two concurrent fantasies. The first is that the tyrant who abuses subordinates does so not because he is a tyrant who cannot control his emotions but because he is correct; he is being dragged down by the lesser around him, and that justifies his rages. The second is that we are all Jordan, undermined by people who don’t put in the work we do. His disdain for his teammates reflects our own. Few people ever toss one back after work and tell people they’re the Bill Cartwright of the office. There was a time when Bobby Knight was glamorized for the same ruthless qualities people glamorize in Jordan. Maybe there’s another way.
YOU PROTECT YOUR OWN TIME
I’m a child of the late 1970s and 1980s, of Bruins vs. Canadiens, Red Sox vs. Yankees, Evert vs. Navratilova, Cowboys vs. Steelers, and, of course, Bird vs. Magic. The release of the 1996 movie “Space Jam” was not a momentous occasion. It was just a kids movie. “The Last Dance” was a reminder that I feel no proprietorship for Michael Jordan. His era was not mine, and therefore for me it’s not protected behind bulletproof glass. He is the younger generation’s Bill Russell, their Jim Brown, their Sandy Koufax. He is the guy who made the old-timers watch like the brothers in the barbershop who used to say if you didn’t see Jim Brown play, you never really saw football, or all the New Yorkers who swore if you missed Joe DiMaggio, you missed perfection and would never see it again.
Jordan doesn’t reflect only himself, but rather the sanctity of a generation for whom the perception of things like the Knicks vs. Bulls mattered most because the grown-up stuff hadn’t yet arrived. He is the mirror of their most beautiful selves. At one point I texted former pitcher CC Sabathia:
ME: You watching Jordan?
CC: Man, I already seen it. Best doc of all time but I’m biased. Hahaha.
ME: Why biased? Jordan brand?
CC: ‘Cause I’m a Jordan fanatic.
Throughout the month the film aired, when even the slightest comment about Jordan was received as vicious criticism, the question reverberated: Why is it so important that Michael Jordan remain unimpeachable?
I don’t have 10, but the eight best basketball teams I’ve personally witnessed were the 1980s Lakers and Celtics, the 1980-83 76ers, the Curry Warriors, the Kobe-Shaq Lakers, Duncan’s Spurs, the Bad Boy Pistons and the Jordan Bulls. I cannot say one is better than the other seven, and need not, for it is generally unimportant. Each dominated its time and each has been eroded a bit over time because that’s what time does — all except for Jordan. Jordan’s is the monument most fiercely guarded, that brooks no debate, the one we are told could time-travel into any era and emerge victoriously, that, like Jordan himself, demands complete submission. Perhaps the reason is that Jordan went 6-0 in NBA Finals and won the Finals MVP in each. Perhaps it is because Jordan’s teams never trailed after three games of any Finals series. Perhaps, but I do not think so.
The Showtime Lakers’ legacy carries the burden of Magic’s air ball against the Houston Rockets in the first round of the 1981 playoffs, letting the Celtics off the hook in the 1984 NBA Finals and Ralph Sampson two years later in the Western Conference finals. Larry Bird went 1-2 against Magic in the Finals. Detroit had a short championship run. Bill Russell’s untouchable eight straight titles, 11 in 13 years, occurred when the league was a third of its current size. LeBron is 3-6 in NBA Finals. The 2015-16 Warriors won 73 games but not the title. Given all of that, surely the legacy of Michael and his Bulls must carry a burden. They dominated a soft patch in the NBA when Showtime and the Celtics faded and San Antonio and Shaq-Kobe hadn’t yet arrived. The Bulls never faced an all-time great Finals opponent, and no player Jordan faced in the Finals, other than an aging Magic on a hodgepodge ’91 team, was a top-10 all-time great. (Sorry, Mailman.) Surely, Jordan’s legacy must carry a 2-5 postseason record against Bird, Magic and Isiah Thomas, having never won even a single playoff game against Larry Bird the player, yes?
Like Jordan himself, Jordan protectors remain undeterred, unwilling to concede even a point. The real reason, I suspect, is that Michael Jordan stands as the godfather of the modern, global game, when all of the things came together at once. He was the most exciting aerial player with enormous style influences beyond basketball — from head (the Jordan shaved head was cool, the Slick Watts clean head an oddity) to waist to, most defining, the shoes. Jordan connected to his generation’s sense of identity far beyond the game. And while winning so much, people forgot he ever lost. He is the only A-list, Hall of Fame superstar in NBA history who was never dethroned on the court as defending champion. When the Bulls failed to defend their 1993 title, Jordan was lunging at curveballs in the minor leagues. When he was knocked out of the 1995 playoffs after his return, the Houston Rockets were defending champions. When the 1999 Bulls didn’t even make the playoffs, Jerrys Krause and Reinsdorf had blown up the dynasty. Jordan was retired. Whenever Jordan returned to the court after winning a championship, he won another one.
More from Howard Bryant
Within this framework, “The Last Dance” risked offering only hagiography, an entertaining reminder of who was in charge, a reinforcement of the unimpeachable man. Jordan is not reflective on camera. He does not offer the panoramic insights time is supposed to afford. He is singular, as he was during his time, the undisputed point of the pyramid. If “The Last Dance” is an accurate lens of how Michael Jordan wanted to be seen, it was a world without women in the foreground. The only spouse/girlfriend in the entire documentary is, yes, Carmen Electra, who was dating Dennis Rodman at the time. Michael Jordan travels from the locker room to the cigar bar. He is the alpha male.
His first wife, Juanita, is never directly mentioned. His current wife, Yvette Prieto, is not mentioned at all. At no point over 10 episodes does Michael Jordan refer to his family, wife and kids as a refuge from the pressures of the world, an anchor, a source of joy where he refuels what has been expended from the fight. Outside of his mother and father, and growing up, he doesn’t refer to family. He is now as he was then: the athlete incarnate, showing no weakness, even equating regret or compassion to weakness. Scott Burrell, Jordan reminds us, is “just a nice guy.” By this stage in the journey, we are expected to age and reflect and reconsider. Michael Jordan appears only to be aging.
In 2018, the Pulitzer Prize-winning book critic Michiko Kakutani eviscerated the Trump administration’s habitual lying to the public in her book “The Death of Truth: Notes on Falsehood in the Age of Trump.” Twenty-three years earlier, in 1995, just as Jordan was returning to basketball, Major League Baseball attempted to circumvent the free press by starting its own news website, MLB.com. So began an era of sports leagues competing with traditional media — NBA TV, NFL Network, NHL Network and MLB Network. In 2014, Derek Jeter founded The Players’ Tribune, a website designed to allow players to tell their stories without a media filter — and communicate directly to the public without having to answer questions.
Governments, musicians and film celebrities have long blocked access from the public, but the nuisance of the open locker room left professional athletes late to the control party. LeBron James now has SpringHill Entertainment, his powerful production company. Kevin Durant has Thirty Five Ventures. Steph Curry has Unanimous Media. Carmelo Anthony has Krossover Entertainment. Malcolm Jenkins has one, Listen Up Media. A co-executive producer of “Blackballed,” the recently released documentary on the Donald Sterling-Los Angeles Clippers scandal, is — Chris Paul. The strategy is clear: Whether individual players or entire leagues, the powerful want to control the answers and the questions.
“The Last Dance” has been criticized for being an inside job, a Jordan-brand vehicle instead of independent documentary journalism, and it is true that heavy-hitting insiders combined to make the film possible. Along with Mike Tollin at Mandalay Sports Media, Jordan business partners Estee Portnoy and Curtis Polk served as executive producers. Polk is Jordan’s Charlotte Hornets co-owner. Portnoy is Jordan’s business and brand manager. Tollin and NBA commissioner Adam Silver have been close for decades. Mandalay chairman and CEO Peter Guber is a longtime powerhouse in the sports field and executive chairman of the Golden State Warriors, and he serves on the NBA board of governors. Jordan’s brand Jumpman paid prominent journalists to take over its live Twitter feed for the documentary with one stipulation: They were prohibited from criticizing Jordan, his teammates or anyone he played against.
Jordan and the NBA jointly own the footage of “The Last Dance” — footage the public likes to believe belongs to them, memories of what they witnessed on TV, or if they were lucky enough, saw in person. Whether it be from the White House, the basketball court or the commissioner’s offices, billionaires aim to control the media. Information is the target of privatization as surely as the post office, Social Security or your local trash pickup. The goal is to curb public accountability, what the public knows, to smother the constitutional, traditional expectation of a free press. All presidents have learned well the lessons of Watergate and Vietnam, and in the half-century since have manipulated media so completely they have virtually guaranteed the press never takes down an administration again.
The same is true of the NFL, NHL and MLB. All footage occurring within an arena of a professional sports team belongs to the league. If a fan who pays for a ticket at Staples Center shoots a 10-second cellphone video of Kawhi Leonard during warm-ups, the NBA owns that footage, even though those stadiums are funded by the public. Your tax dollars fund private property. They control what you see.
Tollin is insulted by the criticism that “The Last Dance” is propaganda. Jordan, he said, made no requests or demands of the filmmakers, had minimal questions and did not interfere with the editorial process. Jordan was interviewed three times at various properties in Florida for a total of eight hours, and altogether, Tollin said, they interviewed 105 other people — with a list three times as long. Tollin said the omissions — the lack of Jordan’s family, the dearth of dissenting voices, especially that of blackballed former teammate Craig Hodges — were not driven by Jordan. Tollin said Hodges was on their list, but the interview simply never materialized.
“We had a checklist: gambling, conspiracy theory about retirement, his father’s death, his lack of activism and his teammates,” Tollin told me. “I think we touched on all categories. From the start, we asked ourselves, ‘Is this a workplace drama or is it a domestic one?’ We both believed it was a workplace story, and [director] Jason [Hehir] and I shared a general disinterest of the wives and children of the lead characters. Michael is one of the most private people of our lifetimes. He’s glad this is over. He wants to get on with his regularly scheduled life. Michael never said you can’t talk to either of his wives. We didn’t feel doing so advanced the story.”
How to Watch
Every person should be entitled to their story, especially for a person as forensically dissected as Michael Jordan. I asked Joe Dumars, the Hall of Fame Pistons guard, why he wasn’t in the film. He told me the filmmakers reached out to him, but while he had enormous respect for Jordan and found it entertaining, the film was Michael’s show. His story, as he saw it.
In a sense, Tollin and the director, Jason Hehir, got lucky that Jordan was willing to be seen as openly as he was. “I think the film did much to demystify him,” Tollin said. “There were many times when it took a hard, unflattering look at him.” Watching Jordan was the singular power of the five weeks, fascinating but not always a compliment. He is not a gracious warrior. It also must be said that omitting Jordan’s family is a glaring hole, for home is an essential component to understanding a person in full dimension. Home should be the place where we are at our most human. Did he not talk to his wife at the time? How did she feel about Bill Laimbeer cheap-shotting her husband? Did she soothe him, give him life? Did he bring the game home, as Henry Aaron once told me no athlete should ever do? Or does Michael Jordan always stand alone?
“The Last Dance” is not propaganda, but it is a product of public space controlled by private interest. Privatization — the leagues as sole proprietors of the images we all witness, the players executively producing themselves — is not only the chilling future of filmmaking but its present. It is also America. Since 1970, public wealth in the United States has plummeted to almost nothing. Public lands are being privatized; try sitting in New York City’s Bryant Park — designated a public park in 1686 but privately managed since the 1980s — after midnight. Public journalism, uncontrolled by its subjects and its corporate partners, is on a ventilator. Like presidents, entertainers and sports leagues, athletes have decided that the best way to control their message is to control the medium. He does not aspire to be a filmmaker, but Michael Jordan spawned a new generation of athlete-as-mogul, branding their sneakers, now privatizing their voices. Off the court, LeBron James rarely appears on programming he doesn’t own. This generation has entered into the media space not to preserve public journalism but to destroy it, to not be questioned. Under such controls, that an often unflattering but authentically human picture of Jordan emerges is a victory — and a reminder of how government has failed to protect its citizens from private takeover of publicly financed facilities. Control is an essential component of empire.
REPUBLICANS, SHOES AND SO ON …
Politics, especially international relations, as influenced by geographical factors. — Merriam-Webster
In the 1990 U.S. Senate race in North Carolina, Jordan did not publicly endorse Harvey Gantt, a Black Democrat attempting to unseat Jesse Helms, a white Republican incumbent. It is, and forever will be, incorrect to view Jordan’s decision as a refusal to engage in politics. Jordan’s off-the-court legacy is very political: He is the non-military extension of the post-Cold War American Empire. Jordan spread American consumerism and cultural influence of underwear and soft drink, sneaker and hamburger sellers to the world without providing a voice at home for the Black people, his people, who largely and painfully comprise the empire’s underclass. The Berlin Wall fell in 1989. In 1990, McDonald’s opened its first restaurant in Russia. The Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. Jordan’s presence at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics as a McDonald’s pitchman did nearly as much for Big Macs globally as it did for basketball. Adidas and Puma owned the European sneaker markets before Barcelona. After, on the feet of Jordan, Nike was the choice of the coolest athlete in the globally growing, cool sport.
The influence of American capitalism and cultural dominance saturated the fledgling post-Soviet republics and the suddenly deregulated Russian economy. It is impossible to address the geopolitical impact of American culture in the final decade of the 20th century without seriously discussing the power of Michael Jordan. And far from omitting Jordan’s contribution to American cultural geopolitics, it is routinely celebrated, for empire is generally seen as his greatest accomplishment. According to Forbes, his net worth was $2.1 billion as of May, and he ranks No. 1,001 on Forbes’ list of the richest people in the world. He is America’s richest former athlete.
Jordan sold America, and America reveled in the great Black man as leading cultural export — softening the reality of what the nation was doing to its Black citizens. This selling of America is driven by politics, but the word political exists as a pejorative only when used as a stand-in for “Black people.” When discussing the popularity of basketball around the globe, the revenue it has generated, the countries that now enjoy robust basketball leagues and international programs, people readily and heartily credit Michael Jordan, basking in the afterglow of what he did for America’s standing in the world.
“In ’92, the NBA was in 80 countries, and now the NBA is in 215 countries,” the late commissioner David Stern said in Episode 10. “Anyone who understands the phenomenon of that historical arc will understand that Michael Jordan and his era played a tremendous part. He advanced us tremendously.”
Former President Barack Obama echoed Stern moments later. “He became an extraordinary ambassador, not just for basketball but for the United States overseas and part of American culture sweeping the globe. Michael Jordan and the Bulls changed the culture.”
While selling that America, however, Jordan also sent the message through his silence during the Helms-Gantt race: The millions of white people who did not care to hear his political advocacy were far more important to him than the millions of Black people who did. This was not a money choice, for Michael Jordan has never been in danger of losing any, but of choosing more money. Of choosing empire. Of choosing not to risk a single, ruthless cent — and of not choosing Black people. Michael Jordan could have sold American opportunity while making very clear the difficulties endured by Black people whose foothold in this country had always been tenuous — a fact he knows personally as well as anyone. Paul Robeson did it. Jackie Robinson did it. Rose Robinson did it. John Carlos did it. Bill Russell did it. Muhammad Ali did it. Michael Jordan chose not to.
It was Jordan’s choice to make, but do not tell me that a choice then was not being made — just as a choice now was made for Jordan to donate $100 million to fight racial inequality as America fractured and burned following George Floyd’s death, as unidentified secret soldiers occupied city streets. Fascinatingly, because he must always remain unimpeachable, always victorious, the empire still sells Jordan’s silence and his billions as an asset to the Black people living with nothing — this one-in-a-million talent as aspirational to them. He represents the payoff, the idea that you can survive the maze of dead ends and false promises that comprise the dead-or-in-jail narrative America loves so much when one of its favorite Black athletes survives and emerges a billionaire. This is usually done through lionizing the legendary Jordan work ethic, as if all that Black people needed — the ones who grew up as he did, where he did, and wound up carrion in America’s deadly wake — was not his genius or a system unbent on killing them, but his drive. This is the American fantasy and its favorite use for Michael Jordan: for his presence to remind Black people that they are solely responsible for their woeful place in this land. He made it. So could they, if only they worked as hard. It is the greatest insult of all.
Twenty-two years after the Bulls dynasty, Michael Jordan left a legacy of the athlete incarnate, the exemplar for those who worship obsession, dominance, empire and ruthlessness — not just for his sport but for all sports. He is the standard not of disposition but of results, for there have been many Jordan-like obsessives who scorched the earth, alienated contemporaries but did not win. He is at once an untouchable standard and cautionary symbol of the journey.
“The Last Dance” was not a celebration. It was not an invitation to share and reminisce, but a reiteration of domination — not over the Lakers, the Suns, Jazz, Sonics or Blazers, but over everyone, teammate or opponent, fan or writer, the unborn rivals to the throne, over anyone who’s ever thought about dribbling a basketball. Jordan is no different from the artists and generals, the Wall Streeters and scientists, and all of the other obsessives who push themselves to the point of insanity, and often beyond it, to complete the quest. He has captivated the world because of it. The film will stand for its moments of humanity and truth: Michael Jordan was willing to die to win, but he was also willing to destroy to win, and when seen through the lens of his isolation, loneliness, physical and mental exhaustion, the price of total victory has already killed off very important parts of himself, because even in total victory, this biggest man often looks so terribly small. Compassion, collaboration, friendship, the instinct to celebrate over dominate, these qualities were absent from “The Last Dance” because they were missing from him. They may be unimportant qualities worth ridicule in the theater of Game 7 competition, but Game 7 is long over, and they are now essential for Jordan’s second act, after the dance. As an owner, executive, colleague and mortal, he has appeared adrift, uncertain how to exist without empire — without the need to remind you of Michael Jordan’s place, without someone to beat. Without these qualities, looking backward at his conquered foes appears to be the only satisfying place for Michael Jordan to be.
Source — Joakim Noah signs with Clippers for remainder of season
The former Defensive Player of the Year’s deal with the Clippers also includes next season (non-guaranteed) according to a source.
The Clippers signed the two-time All-Star to a 10-day contract on March 9, only two days before the NBA season was suspended on March 11 because of the coronavirus pandemic.
During the 2018-19 season, Noah played in 42 games for the Memphis Grizzlies, averaging 7.1 points and 5.7 rebounds.
Clippers coach Doc Rivers starts Ivica Zubac at center but utilizes Montrezl Harrell and JaMychal Green against centers as well. Noah, 35, gives the Clippers added depth, 60 games of playoff experience and another center who can possibly provide some minutes when needed to help defend against opposing big men.
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