One more comeback: Watching Michael Jordan in quarantine

Watching Michael Jordan play basketball was always a transformational experience. We could all use some of that transformation, now more than ever.

A year or so ago, my husband was so upset that all he could do was lie on our couch and weep, his stomach doubled over and shaking. I rubbed his back and begged him to stop. I’d experienced that same sort of existential pain myself, and as an empath and fellow 1990s kid, I knew exactly which sure-fire cures to offer him: upbeat Madonna songs and Michael Jordan highlights. Even though I’m the sports fan in the family, he chose the latter.

As I pulled up Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals on my phone, we both grew quiet. Scott’s eyes widened. We watched, enraptured, as Jordan pressed Stockton and Malone, the Hall of Fame combo from the Utah Jazz, to their breaking point. It was a comfort for my husband to watch greatness, just to know it existed, even when he felt he couldn’t embody it. Watching Jordan, his years of dominance start flooding back: 10 NBA scoring titles, nine All-Defensive First-Team selections, six Finals’ MVP trophies, and of course — the all-important six rings: more than Kobe, Jeter, Tom Brady, or practically anyone else in pro sports. In the time of COVID-19, it seems like Chicagoland is searching for the clutch heroism Jordan provided us.

After a clamoring of sports talk hosts appealed to ESPN to release their 10-part documentary on the 1998 Bulls’ team, The Last Dance, during the lockdown, it’s finally happening. They say reliving Jordan’s Bulls will help us get through this crisis in the absence of live sports. Fans seem to agree. The regional sports network, NBC Sports Chicago, rushed to air their Jordan documentary, I’m Back, detailing Jordan’s 1995 comeback. That same station is currently replaying every game from the 1996 Bulls’ title run. Twitter accounts that focus on Jordan’s exploits like @readjack and @historyjumpman are seemingly more popular than ever before.

At this time, we’re begging for heroics and we need distractions like sports. Our federal government isn’t providing many of the former, and all athletic competition is paused. Without any inspiration, it’s too easy to feel the full weight of the world. So, we look back. We’re all re-watching things right now — home movies, Frozen II, all eight seasons of Magnum, P.I. on Amazon Prime — and Mike is easy comfort food. It’s not just escapism that draws us to him though, it’s the fact that he never quits. He assures us that there is something better out there than our anxiety in this moment, two three-peats forming a bridge to the other side of fear.

When I was a tween in 1998, I knew exactly what I was watching. I think we all did. Analysts have said Jordan was two of the greatest players we ever saw because of the way he reinvented his game after his first retirement — from a speed and power guard to a crafty vet with an epic jump shot. Some aspects of his play never changed — the suffocating defense, the relentlessness with which he pursued his craft, and the wins. Pre-dawn practices, fights with teammates — it’s all part of the rough legend of his greatness. I think, in the moment, we realized we might never see this again. And when I watch Michael now, the greatness still overwhelms me. I can’t think of the coronavirus. Therein lies his current appeal.

Jordan hasn’t been around Chicago much since his second retirement after the Bulls won the 1998 title. Chicago fans were disappointed, but not at all surprised, that he didn’t attend the 2020 NBA All-Star Game at the United Center. But something about watching him play makes Illinoisans remember that he’s ours. As a 1990s kid, even a little white girl from the suburbs, I wanted to be Like Mike. Fearless, and never once a loser, Michael showed me what defeat was by never, ever succumbing to it. Is COVID-19 Reggie? Barkley? Ewing? I don’t know.

Heady Jordan fans would agree that he would never get COVID-19. Can’t you just see him, driving on the virus all the way to the rim and finger-rolling it in with his left hand, jogging off to the other end of the court while flashing that trademark smile, slowed only by the whistle? Can’t you see him chomping this pandemic like a piece of gum he’s angry at, then making one off-balance jumper after another to go off for 35? He’s spitting out the coronavirus and walking away, the court reverberating under his trademark colorways.

Jordan was nothing if not relentless. He didn’t want to win because winning was “more fun than losing,” as I’ve heard several other players say. He played basketball as if he always had something personal on the line. Right now, I’m watching the Bulls and the Heat during the first round of those 1996 playoffs the local station is replaying. It’s the middle of Game 2, and the series hasn’t been close. Michael’s fighting a back injury but just re-entered the game in the third quarter. The Bulls are up by 30. The Heat have scored 38 in the game up to this point. It’s not just a defeat, it’s a bludgeoning.

What we want right now, as a collective, is to see this pandemic go the way of the Sonics’ Reign Man and The Glove in the 1996 Finals. I watched Game 6 the other night, and by the time it was over, all those two managed to accomplish was some grade-A trash talk, a few shakes of their heads, total exhaustion, and finally a walk off the court dejected — beaten so badly that they weren’t sure what happened. SuperSonics Head Coach George Karl looked as though he had seen a ghost. Michael is the one who brought us that. It’s the type of win our city needs right now. If we get it, maybe we’ll run immediately to the locker room, weeping, a reporter futilely trying to cover us with a towel so no one will see how badly we wanted it, how much we had on the line.

Next: Power ranking Michael Jordan’s Bulls teams

Products You May Like

Articles You May Like

Is Kevin Durant, LeBron James forming Lakers superteam even possible?
Goran Dragic contract details: Bulls add another piece to their backcourt
Hornets re-hire Steve Clifford as head coach after Kenny Atkinson turned down job
Agent: Durant has requested trade from Nets
Kendrick Perkins claps back at Draymond Green in since-deleted tweet (NSFW)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.