My Early Spectator Sports Memories Plus What Michael Jordan Was Missing

Written by Devtome contributor Bomac


If I ask you what – arguably NBA all-time greatest & certainly NBA top 5 greatest – basketball player Michael Jordan was missing from his game, what would you say?

If you are like most of his fans, you'll say, absolutely nothing. He had it all. He could do it all. He did do it all, because he had it all. If you are a tad less sycophantic, you might say, that unlike LeBron James, he wasn't the best at getting his teammates into the action. When he came on the court, those around him were less likely to shine.

You would have a point, but that's not what I was going after when I wrote the title to this post. What Michael Jordan was missing from his game is what some critics of the retired Jordan is missing from his life; class and humility. I don't really follow Jordan off the court, so I don't know how true or false the claim is regarding his personal life. And, obviously, this is just my opinion regarding what was lacking in his play. Your mileage may vary.

Not The Only One

If there is truth to my opinion, he is far from alone in the world of sports. I suppose I was spoiled, by being born in the 50s. Sports were big when I was a kid in the 60s and 70s. They were definitely exciting too, yet, by & large, the players were not the caricatures they would morph into in the ensuing decades. No doubt, the increased salaries had a lot to do with the increased egos.

By the time the 80s rolled around and millionaire status was commonplace even among young players, the egos also blew up at the collegiate level among the elite players. They were shoe-ins to make it in the pros, so they were future millionaires, and they knew it.

Classy Dolphins

Part of the way I was spoiled was from living in Miami (or at least the same county, Dade.) I was there to see the Dolphins go from a bad young team, to back to back Superbowl winners, including the only perfect season. (Even 43 years later, in 2015, at the this post was written, that is a record that nobody has beaten.)

They were the classiest bunch of athletes you could ever imagine. They were consummate professionals. They didn't celebrate touchdowns, let alone non scoring plays. (Oh, a receiver might clap his hands twice after handing the ball he just caught for 6 points to the ref, but that was about it. They never flaunted wins in the faces of their opponents. They showed respect and they got respect.

By the way, through the decades, Miami sports fans have had a number of championships to celebrate. When Jordan's Bull would win (among other teams) people would riot. People got hurt. Sometime people got killed. Massive property damage was done. It's never happened in Miami. Even the fans are classy.

It was great getting to witness the transition of the Dolphins, from hapless losers to classy winners. It all began in 1970 when they got rid of coach George Wilson. About the most interesting thing he brought to the team was nepotism.

He drafted his namesake son, George Jr., to quarterback the team one year in the late 60s. I believe that never happened again in the NFL; a team with a quarterback whose father was the coach. I'm not sure it's worthy of Ripley's Believe It Or Not, but it may be good for a bar bet.

The Dolphins definitely upgraded when they let Wilson go – well, both Wilsons, but different years. Bob Griese, a future hall of famer, came in while Coach Wilson was still there, although he didn't exactly turn the team around in his rookie year.

At the time he had a reputation for being a scrambling (running) quarterback. The problem was, he ran backwards more than forward. Coach Wilson's replacement would change that. His name was Don Shula, and he too, was a future hall of famer.

He had just come off a disappointing upset loss in Superbowl 3, against the upstart Joe Namath and his New York Jets. Everyone knew they didn't have a chance against the superior Colts. Well, everyone but Namath & the Jets. Namath guaranteed a victory. That just didn't happen in the world of sports back then – and actually, it still doesn't happen much to this day.

The problem with guarantees is you look like a raving idiot if you are wrong. You can never live it down. It might as well be your epitaph. I mean, even though everyone knew the Colts were going to win, especially the Colts, nobody on the Colts would have publicly guaranteed it.

The guarantee was a big news story in the sporting world. Sure, a lot of people laughed, but just the fact that he would do that, got a lot of people wondering if he knew something they didn't.

The greatest quarterback in the world, Johnny Unitas, had gone down with a bad injury early in the Colt's season, but they didn't miss a beat, because Shula had hired the talented and highly respected veteran quarterback, Earl Morral, to be his backup. He was Shula's ace up the sleeve, and boy did he come in handy.

Unitas was actually healed & rehabilitated from his injury by the time of the Superbowl, but Earl was the one who had gotten them to the dance and Shula was a loyal mother-father. He stayed with Moral. Unfortunately there was a play where receiver Jimmy Orr was all alone in the back of the end zone, but Moral didn't even see him. It was a sure touchdown, and it, arguably, may have changed the outcome of the game, but it was not to be, and Namath sealed his guarantee.

Everyone showed class in the aftermath. There was nothing unusual about that. It was the order of the era. Shula said it hurt to lose, but credited Namath and the Jets. Namath celebrated, but did not gloat. Had Namath gloated, there would have been a backlash that would have detracted from the sweetness of making good on his historic, improbable guarantee.

In the following decade, women's tennis player Rosie Casals would learn a lesson about gloating in a tennis match she wasn't even playing in. A retired male tennis player who, at 55, was much too old to compete against the men, wanted to make a comeback of sorts, in exhibition matches with women. He started with a top female player, Margaret who was 21 years younger. He defeated her 6-2, 6-1.

That was in May of 1973. He had originally asked Billy Jean King, who was also one of the best women players in history, but she turned him down. She thought the loss by Court was bad for women's tennis, so she agreed to play Riggs to help the cause.

In the time leading up to the match, he would make appearances on TV. He was going out of his way to portray a chauvinistic attitude, that everyone was pretty sure was mostly in good fun. He would say things that were over the top; statements to the effect of, woman should be barefoot and in the kitchen.

He said women weren't to be taken seriously, because if they were really elite level athletes, he wouldn't be able to beat them since he was well past his competing days. He said that women should be in the kitchen and barefooted. Invariably, the studio audience would hiss, or laugh and cheer, dependent upon gender, but most people didn't take him that seriously. Even most of the women didn't hate him, because they assumed he was putting on an act. However they did really want to see a woman beat him, just as most of the men loved to see him beat the women.

The match, The Battle Of The Sexes, Part 2 was the talk of the nation, not just the sports nation. The anticipation was great & the ratings were huge. To this day, it remains the most watched tennis match, even though it was all those years ago, 1973.

King proved too much for Riggs. It wasn't even close. 6-4, 6-3, 6-3. At the end, he jumped over the net and congratulated King, who graciously accepted the gesture. However, one of the announcers for the network was Rosie Casals. She evidently had taken everything Riggs had said about women not only seriously, but personally.

If you were rooting for Riggs, it was a tough night for you. The worst part wasn't even his inability to compete with King. It was listening to Casals gloat, nonstop, from start to finish. She did not let up. I wouldn't be surprised if she even got on the nerves of a lot of women, but I can tell you from experience, she was grating to her male audience.

She paid the price for years to come, thereafter. Everywhere she would go in public, men had harsh words for her. If they didn't, they often had harsh looks. I get the feeling Billy Jean got a copy of the match on tape, and after hearing Casals, she probably told her she should have taken a chill pill.

Years later, I heard Casals in an interview being contrite. She said she had taken the match too seriously, as well as the perceived damage that she thought Riggs had been doing to women's tennis. She definitely would have loved to be able to take that night back.

Most athletes, through the 70s were pretty classy. Mark Gustineau of the Jets in the late 70s portended of things to come, when he would dance every time he would sack a quarterback. Sportscasters would castigate him, but it was the beginning of a new era.

There was one athlete in the 60s who was an exception. This guy loved to gloat and brag. I couldn't stand him at the time, but after a few years of it, and he kept backing it up with his results, he won me over. Also, like Casals regarding Riggs, early on, I missed the fact that a good portion of this guy's words was an act, really in good fun.

Have You Guessed Who?

Cassius Clay. Yes, Muhammad Ali. He was so much fun. Even when he lost, like against Joe Frazier, for instance, they were epic battles that most fighters would have been knocked out. He would often make predictions as to what round he would win in, and almost every time, he would do it.

When they would put cameras in the two locker rooms before the fight, his opponent would be shown working out with his trainer, who would be holding up the big padded gloves to be hit. However, when they would cut to Ali, he would be yawning, laying down on a couch, with his hands clasped behind his head.

During fights, sometime when he'd get hit, he'd stagger back and wobble in exaggerated fashion, pretending to be hurt. The play by play announcer, Howard Cosell would be disgusted at him for goofing off like that while defending his title.

I'll always remember when the young George Foreman was favored to beat Ali in the fight in Zaire, (now Congo) Africa. It was called, the Rumble in the Jungle. Foreman had demolished Joe Frazier. He hit him with some uppercuts, that lifted him off his feet before landing him on his back.

Even a lot of Ali fans were worried for Ali, but Ali said he had a special game plan that would assure him the victory. He said he was going to “Rope-A-Dope” George Foreman. People didn't know what he meant, but come the night of the fight, Ali didn't do much the first few rounds. Foreman had him on the ropes a lot. Ali mainly put his big mitts up, shielding his pretty face. Foreman pounded and pounded away, but Ali was able to withstand the beating. Later, Ali started fighting back,

With each succeeding round, Foreman's once powerful punches become more anemic. He had punched himself out, trying to put Ali away early. Ali seemed to be getting more powerful, while Foreman grew weaker.

After the fight, Ali said he even told everyone what he was going to do, and Foreman let him do it, like a dope. He roped the dope. He laid back on the rope, took the beating, protected his face, but conserved his energy, while Foreman exerted his energy. He knocked out Foreman in the 8th round. It was brilliant, but it wasn't something many fighters could do. He had to take a lot of massive punches that would have taken too large a toll for most.

All in all, even though Ali would say things like he's still so pretty because his opponent couldn't hit him, and brag about floating like a butterfly & stinging like a bee, Ali maintained his class. He had him prime taken from him when he chose to take prison, if necessary, over being drafted to go kill people in Vietnam. His best 3 1/2 years were spent out of the ring, for refusing to kill people for moral purposes.

He was able to stay out of prison as he appealed his case to the Supreme Court, which unanimously overturned his draft dodging conviction. He did not moan & complain about losing those prime years the rest of his career. The man showed a tremendous amount of class.

In 1980, I was living in Los Angeles. My mom and step father came out on vacation. We were driving up Sunset Blvd and my mother said, “Hey look, There's Muhammad Ali going into that restaurant.”

I turned to look but it was too late. I kind of doubted my mother, but she assured me, “I would be able to recognize him anywhere. I am sure that was him.”

I got my step father to turn around and pull into that parking lot. I had a book with me, written by Richard Back, “Illusions: The Adventures Of A Reluctant Messiah.” I grabbed the book and took it into the restaurant.

I spotted him with his wife at a table. I approached, and apologized for bothering them. I said I just wanted to give him a book. He reached for it and looked at the cover. He said, “Thank you. Is it religious?”

I said, “It's spiritual.”

He started looking through it and his wife said that was very kind of me. I thanked her and didn't wear out my welcome. I had given away copies of Illusions to quite a few famous people, including every cast member of a top 3 TV show I was writing for at that time, but Muhammad Ali is by far, the person I”m the happiest I got to share it with.

Michael Jordan

I get the feeling that if I tried to give Illusions to Jordan in a restaurant, he'd have someone tell me to step away and don't look back. Heh. It's just a feeling, but it sure as heck wouldn't surprise me.

Anyway, there may be no “I” in team, by there's a huge “I” in Jordan, so to speak. It's true that Lebron James is more generous with the ball than Jordan was, and he tends to make his teammates better, unlike Jordan. I think that is a direct by-product of Jordan's ego.

I really got the feeling watching Jordan play that it was all about him. The rest of the team were only important to him in that he couldn't win if he were alone. While the rest of the team were happy for the team when they won, Jordan was happy for himself.

I wish Larry Bird hadn't of gotten injured to the point of retiring to avoid the pain. If not for the injuries, he had more years left. Jordan and the Bulls could not make it to the finals when Bird was still playing for Boston. Jordan would have had 2 or 3 less rings, and Bird would have had more rings.

If you want to see the perfect example of Jordan being about himself, watch a clip of Jordan winning the finals after he had done his minor league baseball experiment. (And yes, I know the argument that he'd of had more rings if he didn't take those 2 years off. Perhaps he would. He was truly great.)

When the buzzer went off, and it was official, the Bulls had won, instead of looking to teammates to enjoy the moment, Jordan gave them his back. When his teammates wanted to share in the moment with their leader, he would have none of it, in those first several, most exuberant minutes that come with a championship celebration in front of a crowd.

Instead, he went to the floor after grabbing the basketball from a teammate, and stayed face down. Even when teammates were touching his back, and even laying on top of him he refused to acknowledge them. Actions speak louder than words. Those were some awfully loud actions.

Yes, it was Father's Day, and his dad had been murdered 2 years earlier. The sportscasters were spouting that immediately, trying to fathom his curious choice of shutting out his team. I didn't buy it in 1996, and I don't buy it now. It's inexcusable behavior for a classy person. Bob Griese wouldn't have done that after a Superbowl victory, even if his dad had been murdered during the 2 minute warning.

Jordan Got Off On The Favoritism

When the Miami Heat got Shaquille O'Neal, I remember thinking that the Heat were going to be getting some extra players, just like the Bulls used to have every time Jordan was on the floor. I”m speaking about the referees. Jordan would get the benefit of the doubt on both ends. He wouldn't get called for fouls he made, and people would not foul him, but they would be called for fouls.

I was a travesty to the game. I didn't think it was right that since Shaq was superstar player, he was going to bring referee favoritism to the Heat, I presumed. It's not fair. I wanted my team to win fairly. Well, it turns out, I had nothing to worry about.

Opposing players were allowed to mug the crap out of Shaq. The feeling among the refs evidently was that since he was bigger and stronger, it was OK to foul him. It was the biggest double standard I had ever seen in the NBA since the Jordan double standard, but in the exact opposite direction.

Years later, when the Heat got James, it was like a repeat of Shaq. James is bigger than average, so the refs allow him to be fouled outrageously, including in playoff games. Yet, on the other side, they call ticky tack fouls against him, that shouldn't be called against anyone.

WIth Jordan, I don't know how he wasn't embarrassed to get the benefit of so many bad calls and missed bad calls. If I were him, I would have spoken to the officials to have them cut it out. If that didn't work, I'd of gone to the commissioner.

I would have said, “I”m the best. I don't need your help. I don't want it. I demand that you stop your inequitable calls. It makes me look stupid, like I”m in on the cheating. I understand the Association wants me to never be fouled out, on the bench. I get they want me to score a lot of points, but this has to stop. It's embarrassing and it detracts from my accomplishments. So cut it out.”

I remember a playoff game against the Heat where it was obvious that Jordan was tripped to the floor by his own teammate. the Worm, Dennis Rodman. The ref called a foul. I couldn't believe it, but a Heat player get called for a foul for Jordan's own teammate tripping him. That was typical.

In another game against the Heat, Jordan was lipping off to the ref. Anybody else would have gotten a technical foul. The problem is, if a players get 2 technical fouls, he is out of the game. The refs obviously had orders to never put MJ on the bench, so all the hapless ref could do was give Jordan the evil eye.

A Miami Herald sports columnist reported that Jordan told the ref to quit looking at him like he was going to T him up. He said, “You know you're not going to do that, so just walk away.”

That incorrigible. It's that kind of favoritism that led to a lot of Jordan's wins, and possibly to a number of his championships. You can accuse Jordan of a lot of things, but being classy can't be one of them.

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