Michael Jordan’s Principle: Address The Haters

Jose Vilson Jose 1 Comment

Michael Jordan’s Hall of Fame speech (and his career, for that matter) read like a diatribe against wrong decision-making … and our fundamental ideas about sportsmanship. For those that have lived under the sea for the last 30 years, Michael Jordan’s arguably the greatest basketball player of all time, surpassing records and racking up a highlight reel the size of any big-budget movie. Words used to describe MJ during his tenure as the most dominant shooting guard to play the game: “cold-blooded,” “merciless,” “exacting,” “superlative,” and “focused.” 6 NBA Champions and the Most Valuable Player in each, 5 NBA Regular-Season MVPs, 31.6 career scoring average (tops in this category), and those accomplishments came right after taking over the throne for both Larry Bird and Earvin “Magic” Johnson, who both alternated the crown for greatest players in their era.

His ascension into absolute reign signified a bit of a revolution for the league and sports as a whole. For all the moments, measurable and immeasurable, he chose a ceremony that ultimately cements the greatest and finest basketball coaches, broadcasters, writers, and players alike with a scribe that addressed  his most vital dissenters. While he also found time to laud a few people along the way, he innovated the idea of revenge in sports and using the vitriol and slights directed at him to fuel his next performance. His trash talk on the court was about as legendary as the actions he put to those words, and what he’d do after a mind-boggling play ushered in a new showmanship that tied Jordan to the bravado we see displayed all over sports as a whole. Indeed his truths were self-evident.

I’ve contemplated a bit on this tremendous speech, and wondered how I should feel about it. It almost seems petty for Michael to use that stage to show disrespect to the decisions and perceived slights of people who didn’t have a post-trip rear view mirror from which to point their decisions. Dean Smith can’t be blamed for not letting him on the national magazine covers nor can Buzz Peterson be blamed for starting ahead of him. It revealed a sort of arrogance and pettiness that always rubbed anti-Jordan sports fans the wrong way. An assassin in the figurative form of the word, he couldn’t just win; he had to kick everyone in the teeth in and crush any spirit they had in thinking they’d actually beat him.

Then I sat there and thought how that sort of mentality applied to my life and others who I’ve seen succeed around me. For all the times many of us laud those who remain humble, we gravitate towards those who’ve put their money where their mouth is. They’ve put in the long hours behind the scenes, perfecting their shots, reflecting on their practice, saying less about what they’re going to do and trading those points in for points in the field of their choosing. They have a sharp attention to detail and debunk risks in the face of actual personal progress.

Detractors seem to serve a greater purpose than most of us never pay attention to: they help redefine and sharpen who we are as people. Those of us who do great work in our fields always need a reminder of the obstacles facing them in their journey. I understand why people  may not like him as a man after that speech, but the hubris and self-idolatry made Michael the man he is today.

I call this the Michael Jordan Principle: if we want success, address the haters, don’t ignore them. The minute we do, it shows that anyone can test our mettle. The best way to respond to the denigration doesn’t necessarily come in verbal form, but in one’s actions after. Do we prove people right by not doing anything about what was said or wrong by becoming passionate about reaching our goals?

This is, of course, within reason, because sometimes a detractor is really a friend in disguise. For instance, Phil Jackson pushed Michael Jordan to give up the  ball more in favor of letting the whole team grow, and thus winning championships instead of scoring titles. Overall, the Michael Jordan Principle shows how, many times, the best approach to personal growth is using the negative energy thrown at you to grow and not letting it weigh you down.

Jose, who only liked Michael Jordan only after he retired for the 3rd time …

About Jose Vilson

José Luis Vilson is a math educator, blogger, speaker, and activist. For more of my writing, buy my book This Is Not A Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class, and Education, on sale now.

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