Behind Michael Jordan’s six title rings, two Olympic Gold medals, five MVP trophies, 10 scoring titles, and other individual accolades is this basketball player who became the symbol of a working man with a singular focus on completing his duty. Most NBA fans are enchanted by Jordan’s seemingly superhuman-like quality: his laser-like focus to win. Even those who did not grow up watching Jordan know that their favorite player’s favorite player is His Airness himself. Not all of them can copy his moves. But almost all of them are influenced by his win-at-all-costs persona.
As always, there’s a pocket of people who are there to challenge the status quo. In this case, it’s John Salley — the big man with a special tag as Jordan’s rival-turned-teammate. Salley was a member of the Detroit Pistons Bad Boys who stonewalled Jordan’s early attempts at the title. Later on, in the 1995-96 season, he donned the Chicago Bulls jersey. According to Salley, Jordan’s reputation as this mystical figure whose obsession is to win by any means isn’t really a trait that he alone possesses. Other players, too, have that killer instinct in their DNA.
“That's the only time they told you to focus on it. Because the same mentality Westbrook has is the same mentality of Alvin Robertson — who's in prison right now. The same mentality of Bernard King, same mentality of Sugar Ray Richardson, same mentality of Marcus Johnson, same mentality of Larry Bird. I can go down the line,” Salley said in an interview with DJ Vlad.
Fair point. Those who started watching the NBA in the 90s or 2000s have probably never heard of Alvin Robertson — one of the best pickpockets in NBA history and the only guard to record a quadruple-double. Micheal "Sugar" Ray Richardson, too, is known to be a feisty guard on both ends of the floor. Yes, they never won a title during their stint but are highly-regarded ballers, especially by their colleagues. Circumstances that they cannot control — such as marketing or the fact that tons of talented prospects enter the NBA almost every season — might have cast a dark cloud on their stature in the game.
A commissioner operating in the shadows
Salley is not downplaying Jordan’s talent. He knew how much time he spent studying Jordan’s moves during his stint in Detroit. He also got a closer look at Jordan’s extraordinary vision in his short stint in Chicago. However, Salley seems to be insisting that Jordan came into the NBA at the right time — at the same time with David Stern, the pioneering NBA Commissioner who took the helm in 1984. According to Salley, Stern wasn’t just running the entire league. He was also concocting a super-product in Michael Jordan.
“What's the difference with Michael is Michael came to the NBA with David Stern. He came in with a brilliant agent, a brilliant lawyer who realized he had a product to sell. And in developing that product, we had to now make this product the Messiah. In order to get people to worship it, you got to make a Messiah. Why Michael Jordan had the focus is he saved the world in Space Jam. Michael is the biggest face and the biggest thing in China. Michael became the face of the NBA.”
“Michael is the beginning of the video game age. So kids were able to be Michael,” Salley said.
Jordan diehards would say that Salley fits the mold of jealous oldheads who cannot move on from the beating they received from MJ. Years removed from the hardcourt, they are still yapping that Jordan is not good as advertised. However, the fact that Salley experienced being on both sides — as foe and teammate — suggests that we should at least consider his arguments. Besides, if you know a thing or two about marketing, you know how a clear and concise vision could turn a “want” into an “irrepressible human need.”