“On nights I perform like Mike - any one, Tyson, Jordan, Jackson...” - Notorious B.I.G
This was one of my favourite lyrics back in the day - in one smooth, concise line, he absolutely nails it, comparing his skills and success to any of the world class, highest performers of their time - all named Mike - whether it be Michael Jackson in music, Mike Tyson in boxing or Michael Jordan in basketball. All of these Mike’s were the best in their field in that era, bar none. And whilst each of them also had a dark side, their achievements and global impact far outweigh their shortcomings.
I’m reminded of this lyric as I watch the Netflix series, the Last Dance - all about Michael Jordan, his life and documents his last season at the Chicago Bulls in particular. You see a fearsome, ruthless, relentless competitor, fiercely competitive, ridiculously talented and someone holding the highest of high standards for himself and those around him.
Rightly, he is considered a game changer and someone who literally was head and shoulders above everyone else in his sport. But it was interesting to see how demanding he was of his teammates, to the point of bludgeoning and bullying them to raise their game. It can be argued, he definitely achieved his aims and it shows the power of his leadership and charisma that he was able to raise the performance of his team mates through sheer force of personality alone. He was respected, he was feared - but perhaps not so well-liked. It seems to be a regularly occurring theme amongst the most elite of performers today - Steve Jobs was another who’s utter genius cannot be questioned - and yet he was also known to be an extremely prickly character who would bellow from the rooftops if his demands or instructions were not followed.
Is that just the price you have to pay for genius and being the creme de la creme? An ongoing frustration that everyone else is just not on your level, a pain to be endured. Or is it more indicative of our capitalist society and how we prioritise and prefer ruthlessness at any cost over character, every single time?
I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing, to be fearsome, to demand the highest of high standards - after all, we revere Malcolm X who was no soft touch.
The critical difference for me is WHY you do it.
This is where Jordan falls down and doesn’t light a candle to the other greats who transcended their sport, such as Muhammad Ali.
Those great celebrities who become icons, who are loved the world over for success in their field are able to use their considerable influence to spark ideas, to bring about change or even stand for a cause greater than themselves. The one thing about Michael Jordan that affects his legacy in my eyes, certainly is his refusal to step up for his community at the peak of his powers and endorse a black political candidate against an overtly racist one - citing “Republicans buy Air Jordans, too.”
In an extremely racist world, the one thing, the one luxury that IS afforded to world class performers, regardless of their race, is a platform. A voice. You can use that for good, for social change, to help others. Or you can use it to line your own pockets further and make even more money.
You can choose struggle, or you can choose silence. You can’t choose both.
People love Muhammad Ali to this day, long after his death. Ditto Michael Jackson. Ditto Malcolm X. Even those who didn’t quite achieve their full potential, such as Tupac Shakur. Because they stood up for what is right. Those less fortunate. Those without a voice. Even at great and sometimes even fatal cost to themselves.
I’m not saying he doesn’t support charities that do great work, I’m sure he is extremely philanthropic. But that is silence, not struggle.
Even when people talk about Ronaldo vs Messi - if it’s on the pitch alone, perhaps Messi. If it’s about influence and impact, it’s all about Ronaldo.
Was Michael Jordan great? Undoubtedly, yes. He DID transcend his sport. On the court alone, there’s probably no-one better.
But there’s great, and then there’s those who go beyond greatness and are immortal. He doesn’t quite make it there, for me. He chose silence instead of struggle.
For someone as competitive and successful as him, that’s definitely taking the Michael.
A lifelong learner, avid reader and passionate writer, I am the founder of KNOW and a serial entrepreneur.
I am a huge believer in personal development and am also the co-founder of Muslim CEO.