x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

He embodied US sport

The numbers speak for themselves - everything Jordan touched turned to gold.


Who do you think is sport's all-time best? Each week, we will profile a candidate, inviting you to decide who should top our list of 50. All participants will be entered into a draw for the weekly adidas prize and an end-of-contest Etihad Holidays four-day trip for two, including business class flights and accommodation, to a mystery location. We will reveal the full 50 at the end, but this week Desmond Kane looks at the basketballer Michael Jordan.

"I've missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed." Michael Jordan. An NBA player once described by the Boston Celtic's Larry Bird as a god in disguise. All slam dunks, trophies, hundreds of millions of dollars, largesse, records, cigars, charities and celebrity golf tournaments. All hoopla amid the hoops. A train of thought that is simplistic, informative but also rousing.

Trying to cut through the numbers enveloping this American player, in a land where the national sporting culture is defined by statistics, is challenging. Assembling some words in a limited space about Jordan is a Herculean task, like it must have felt when trying to smuggle a basketball away from this almost mythical figure during his pomp of representing the Chicago Bulls and Washington Wizards over a three-decade stretch as memorable as any of his three-peats.

Whatever one omits, there will be something that should have been included. Writing about the pope would probably be as manageable a task. There is so much space dedicated to Jordan and his life and times. Air Jordan floated on air, a man capable of throwing his 6ft 6in frame from the free-point line straight to the height of the basket. Upon reflection, some of his moves alongside Bugs Bunny in the movie Space Jam did not seem so far fetched.

Jordan has come to represent more than American basketball. He embodies US sport in representing an image, a brand and even the American dream, though perhaps not the one Francis Scott Fitzgerald wrote about. There are swathes of newsprint, magazine articles and interviews dedicated to such a figure, and trying to characterise him would take considerably longer than the space allotted to these pages.

Perhaps one should disregard a lot of the matter and, as the Nike sports brand with which Jordan has become associated over the years advises, just do it. The facts are there in black-and-white, or the red-black-and-white of the Bulls, but it is heavenly thread that links them. Jordan was proclaimed the NBA's Most Valuable Player, or MVP, in 1988, 1991, 1992, 1996, and 1997. He was a member of the US team that won Olympic gold in 1984 and their "dream team" of 1992.

He potted 63 points to set the record for the largest individual haul in an NBA play-off game against Boston Celtic in 1986, He has also scored over 50 points in a game on 34 occasions. At times, Jordan has mimicked a heavyweight boxer in his free time, being content to smoke cigars and shimmy up to a celebrity lifestyle. Like every worthwhile boxer, there has also been a comeback. Born in Brooklyn, he seems to have possessed the same tendency to reappear as his New York neighbour from Hoboken, Frank Sinatra. When it was announced to the world on Wednesday that the cyclist Lance Armstrong was ready to throw himself into a comeback in the Tour de France, the name of Jordan was immediately raised.

Jordan's first three-peat was completed in 1993 when the Bulls emulated the Boston Celtic's achievement of the 1960s. The Bulls downed the Los Angeles Lakers and Magic Johnson in 1991, the Portland Trail Blazers and Clyde Drexler a year later, and the Phoenix Suns and Charles Barkley to claim a third straight title. He retired for the first time in Oct 1993, three months after his father was murdered.

He spent a year playing minor league baseball with a feeder club of the Chicago White Sox before uttering the words "I'm back" to signify his return to the NBA in the early months of 1995. Jordan scored 55 points against the New York Knicks five games into his return, and in 1996 helped the Bulls reclaim the NBA crown and a triple success in earning the regular season, All-star and finals MVP awards.

Victory over the Seattle Supersonics guaranteed them the title, and a title as one of the greatest teams in NBA history. A year later, the Bulls beat the Utah Jazz aided by the exploits of Jordan and Dennis Rodman before a repeat three-peat was realised when the Bulls recorded 62 wins in the regular season and took the title in 1998 with another victory over the Jazz. After returning to the NBA with the Washington Wizards in 2001, Jordan participated in his final all-star game two years later, and usurped Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the leading scorer in any All-Star game. In deference to an icon, the Miami Heat retired the No 23 despite Jordan having never played for the team.

The NBA may not be the staple diet of many countries in the world yet Jordan's presence, like that of Tiger Woods, has made him more than a sportsman. Air Jordan, or His Airness as he has been nicknamed, is as much of a brand as the sports company who endorse him. Now aged 45, his career may have ceased but Jordan is a man who continues to score when he is not playing. Cast your vote and enter a draw for a weekly Dh500 adidas voucher and a dream trip with Etihad Holidays. If you think Jordan is the all-time best, text G22 to 2337 Texts cost Dh5 and voting will end at midnight on Thursday September 18. @Email:dkane@thenational.ae