Below are a couple excerpts from articles I read today. The concluding paragraphs of the two pieces weren’t necessarily parallel, but they provide a nice context for this year’s USA Men’s Olympic Basketball team. Some people claim this year’s fast and deadly squad could give the original 1992 iteration a run, while others steadfastly refuse to even acknowledge the hypothetical because the 1992 version was just that much better.
[Personally, no one beats the 1992 version regardless of how old Larry and Magic were.]
Here’s the ending to the Ian Thomsen piece for Sports Illustrated about this year’s Olympic team (which Stern has hinted might be the last without an age limit in place for professionals):
’”One championship doesn’t get it, you know what I’m saying?’ Bryant said. ‘So for me, when we won one, it was a little different because it was, like you know, Michael (Jordan) had six, Magic (Johnson) had five. So me and Shaq (O’Neal) both were like, man, we got to get some more. One ain’t going to cut it.’
Surely James has been thinking the same way.
‘Yeah, I mean, since the last time we were here I got two,’ said Bryant, extending the vowel the way Jordan extended his fingertips after making his last championship shot in Utah. He let the “two” hang out there without rushing onto the next sentence. ‘Dirk got one. He (James) got one.’ Has Bryant reminded James of the championship score?
‘Not yet,’ he said. ‘I will. I will.’
Because that’s what teammates are for. It’s always about the edge.”
Now here’s Jack McCallum in Sports Illustrated the Magazine wrapping up his article on the Greatest Game Nobody Ever Saw: the 1992 Monaco scrimmage between a Magic Johnson led team going against a Michael Jordan led team. The best players in the world were implicitly cast as role players while the two titans of the last 5 years of the NBA battled to see who was top dog:
“Daly watches in relief as the clock hits 00:0. He waves his hands in a shooting motion at both baskets, the sign for players to do their postpractice routine, ending the Greatest Game Nobody Ever Saw.
Jordan’s White Team 40, Johnson’s Blue Team 36.
Except that it isn’t over. Not really.
‘Way to work, White,’ Jordan yells, rubbing it in. He paces up and down, wiping himself with a towel, emperor of all he sees, as Magic, Barkley and Laettner disconsolately shoot free throws.
‘It was all about Michael Jordan,’ says Magic. “That’s all it was.”
It’s no joke. Magic is angry.
Jordan continues to pace the sideline. He grabs a cup of Gatorade and sings, “Sometimes I dream….” Jordan has recently signed a multimillion-dollar deal to endorse Gatorade, and the ads feature a song inspired by I Wan’na Be like You, the Monkey Song in the animated film The Jungle Book. The Gatorade version’s lyrics are:
Sometimes I dream/That he is me/You’ve got to see that’s how I dream to be/I dream I move, I dream I groove/Like Mike/If I could be like Mike.
But Krzyzewski, no fan of trash talk, looks back on the game fondly, remembering almost every detail. ‘Every once in while I’ll be doing something and a line from that game will just flash into my head,’ he says. ‘They just moved Chicago Stadium to Monte Carlo. It just makes me smile.’
‘A lot of players talk trash because the TV cameras are on. But the doors on that day were closed. This was just you against me. This is what I got—whatta you got? It taught me a lot about accepting personal challenges. You know, if somebody could’ve taped the sound track of the game, not necessarily recorded the basketball but just the sounds, it would be priceless.’
Well, I got the original VHS tape, converted it to DVD and even got a specialist to make a CD of the sound track. It picked up almost everything. The Greatest Game Nobody Ever Saw was not about the hoops. It was about the passion those guys put into playing, the importance they placed on winning and on personal pride.
Years later Jordan brought up the game before I had a chance to ask him about it. “In many ways,” he said, “it was the best game I was ever in. Because the gym was locked and it was just about basketball. You saw a lot about players’ DNA, how much some guys want to win. Magic was mad about it for two days.”
Magic, for his part, estimates that his anger lasted only a few hours. “Let me tell you something—it would’ve been worse for everybody if he lost,” says Johnson. “Because I could let something go after a while. But Michael? He’d never let it go. He never let anything go.”
He never let anything go.
The pathological nature of Jordan’s psyche has been exhaustively discussed on this blog, on other blogs, on national websites, in national newspapers, in national magazines and in New York Times bestselling books. We all get it: MJ loved to win and more than that, he needed to win on a primal, reptilian level that is more instinctual than a trait picked up during mankind’s brief sojourn on this mortal coil. Winning was MJ’s quintessence (not sure you can say that about him as an executive, but that’s irrelevent). Only one other player during my lifetime even approached that level of competitiveness: Kobe Bean Bryant.
Jordan craved winning; Kobe craves winning. I used to hate Kobe’s obvious Jordan mimesis. Like the time after the Lakers (with Shaq as Finals MVP) won title number 2 and Kobe jumped up on the scorer’s table to wag two fingers. MJ did the same thing after Chicago beat Portland in ‘92—just before the infamous Olympic scrimmage McCallum detailed in his piece.
As I’ve grown older, I still find the comparisons between the two dominant players of the 90’s and 00’s silly; there is only one Jordan and because of that, only one G.O.A.T. I’d imagine Magic Johnson fans found the comparison’s with Jordan annoying in 1992; Jordan had only won two rings at that point, to Magic’s five.
My (possibly generational) bias already stated, Kobe’s just as pathological about winning as MJ was, and you can’t fake that. My once low opinion of Kobe Bryant continues to evolve and part of me actually respects him—but just a little. He’s still kind of a prick, but so was Jordan.
[Pics Via & Via]