SPRINGFIELD, MASS. — It's not as if there has been a lot of suspense leading up to this moment. Michael Jordan hasn't chewed his fingernails down to the cuticles wondering whether this, at long last, might be the year he gets into the Hall of Fame.
But to act as if it's no big deal that he's being inducted into the Hall -- duh, of course MJ is a Hall of Famer! -- is wrong too. The man deserves his due.
The best way to describe Jordan's place here is to say that the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame has been living a diminished life without him. By definition, there can't be a basketball hall of fame -- lowercase, uppercase, generic, whatever -- without Michael Jordan.
And thus it follows that, even though it's a slam dunk he's a Hall of Famer, he needs to be honored for it, and honored in a big way. And if you're of the mind that the attention surrounding this inevitability is excessive, allow me to get morbid for a brief moment. The next time everyone will be getting together to reminisce about Jordan like this will be in eulogy form.
So Jordan will be inducted into the Hall of Fame today, amid much pomp, circumstance and Nike product placements. And he deserves it.
"He should have his own induction," Bulls Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf said Thursday night. "They should have had one night for Michael, one night for everybody else."
He's right. David Robinson, John Stockton, Jerry Sloan and Vivian Stringer also will be inducted today, but they might as well be a garage band. This is what happens when you get sucked into the orbit of the best player in the history of the game. These people are and were great at what they do.
They're just not the best.
Reinsdorf calls Jordan the greatest basketball player he has seen, but he believes Jackie Robinson is the greatest all-around athlete. Uh-oh, Mr. Chairman. That's called tugging on Superman's cape.
"Jackie Robinson led the country in rushing in football at UCLA, was an All-American basketball player, was a world-class broad jumper, was a junior tennis champion and baseball was probably his worst sport," Reinsdorf said.
To which Jordan probably would say, "Yes, but you've never seen me in track shoes."
"What [Jordan would] probably do is go out there and long-jump and show me he could do it," Reinsdorf said, laughing.
It never fails that the stories about Jordan stop briefly at his scoring titles and most-valuable-player awards before inevitably moving on to his willpower and practice habits. His talent level was ridiculous. His competitiveness was legendary.
"He didn't accept failure in anything," said Bulls President John Paxson, who was on three title teams with Jordan. "He wasn't afraid to fail, because how many times did he put the game on his shoulders and win it?
"There was something unique about that mentality that I can't describe. I can't put my finger on it. I know what I saw, but I probably can't describe it."
There was a look in Jordan's eye and a dare on his tongue.
"Michael competes in everything," said Doug Collins, who coached him at the beginning of his career and at the end, in Washington. "There's no such thing as a casual day for him. He's driven by competition. At age 40, there's no way he had the speed and quickness to keep up and do the things he did, but he found a way to get it done. He totally reinvented his game. He became a low-post, half-court player with the Wizards. A deadly shooter. It was amazing."
Even while the Bulls were in the middle of their stretch of six titles, a grab for credit already was underway. Coaches, management and just about everybody else were intimating they had a lot to do with the success. But there was only one Michael, and that one Michael was primarily responsible for whatever the Bulls accomplished during his time in Chicago.
There was a burden to being MJ, one that he accepted and approached as a challenge. He didn't shortchange anybody in the stands. He understood he was The Show. He did not take nights off. He knew people had paid good money solely to watch him play and play well. Paxson remembers Jordan badly rolling his ankle in a game in Atlanta and thinking he was done for the night.
"A few minutes later, he's taped up, he comes out and he's brilliant," he said.
There is enough footage of Jordan to last a lifetime, but that's only part of the story. That's why today's induction is so important. Yes, it's a foregone conclusion. But it will be nice to hear people try to describe him again. And fall short.
BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX
Class of 2009
The 2009 Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Class, which is enshrined today:
Team: Utah Jazz
NBA titles: 0. All-Star selections: 10.