Friday, September 11, 2009

Emotional Jordan Steals Show at Hall

Washington Post Staff Writer

SPRINGFIELD, Mass., Sept. 11 -- Michael Jordan buried his head into his hand, wiped the sweat from his brow, then rubbed away tears before they poured from his eyes. It was an emotional display, during a 73-second ovation that preceded Jordan's speech as he entered the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on Friday. Jordan told friends that he would simply thank the people who helped him become known as the greatest basketball player in history and then move aside gracefully.

But Jordan, who has established himself as a global icon, gravity-defying marketing machine and ultimate showman, couldn't leave the lectern swiftly. He asked one question -- "What is it that you don't know about Michael Jordan?" -- then spent the next 21 minutes explaining the competitive drive that pushed him to one NCAA championship at North Carolina and six NBA championships, five most valuable player awards and 10 scoring titles with the Chicago Bulls. It started with his family, growing up in Wilmington, N.C., where his parents taught him the value of hard work; his older brothers, Larry and James, fought him; and his younger sister, Roslyn, took extra classes to graduate from high school with him.

"You want to know where my competitive nature came from? It came from them," Jordan told a capacity crowd at the Springfield Symphony Hall. "As I grew, people added wood to that fire."

Jordan then went about singling out seemingly everyone who pushed him to greater heights: The coach at Laney High who picked Leroy Smith over him for the varsity team ("You made a mistake, dude," Jordan said). Buzz Peterson, his former roommate at North Carolina who was named high school state player of the year instead of him. His college coach, Dean Smith, who refused to name Jordan as a starter as a freshman before Sports Illustrated magazine put the other four Tar Heels starters on the cover in 1981 ("That burned me up," he said).

Jordan's list included former rivals such as Isiah Thomas, Magic Johnson, George Gervin, Pat Riley and Bryon Russell; reporters who claimed that a scoring champion could never lead his team to a title; and even members of the Bulls. Jordan took exception to a quote from former Bulls general manager Jerry Krause, with whom he had a contentious yet successful relationship. Krause once said that "organizations win championships," which apparently still has Jordan irked.

"The players win championships. Don't try to put the organization before the players because at the end of the day, the players have to go out and perform. You guys got to pay us," said Jordan, who currently runs the basketball operations for the Charlotte Bobcats after serving a similar role with the Washington Wizards.

In one of the more awkward moments of the night, Jordan spoke to his kids, Marcus, Jeffrey and Jasmine. "You guys have had a heavy burden. I wouldn't want to be you guys," Jordan said with a laugh.

Earlier in the day, Jordan tried to remind several hundred reporters, fans and invited guests in attendance that five people, not one person, were entering the Hall of Fame on Friday. The other inductees were two of his teammates from the original Dream Team -- David Robinson, a former league most valuable player and a two-time NBA champion, and John Stockton, the all-time leader in steals and assists -- as well as Jerry Sloan, a coach who has won more games with the same team than any other in NBA history, and C. Vivian Stringer, a legend in women's college basketball.

Robinson, a devout Christian who spent his entire 14-year career with San Antonio, expressed love for his family and closed with a passage from the Bible. Stringer, the Rutgers coach, spoke about the pain of losing her husband, Bill. Sloan, who is about to enter his 22nd year with the Jazz, explained every step of his basketball career, including his decision to leave a head coaching job at Evansville -- months before the entire team and its coaching staff died in a plane crash. Stockton, who played all 19 seasons of his career with the Jazz, revealed a rarely seen sense of humor. He said that some of his friends and family probably came to Springfield, not for him, but to see Jordan.

"One big shot and everybody thinks he's so great," Stockton said.

But the night belonged to Jordan, who was the reason why the city was buzzing like never before; why the induction ceremony had to be moved from the sphere-shaped Hall of Fame building to the larger-capacity Symphony Hall; and why tickets sold for $1,000 a piece.

Jordan said earlier that he hated entering the Hall of Fame because it meant that his career in basketball was officially over. On Friday night, he left another opening.

"One day you might look up and see me playing the game at 50," Jordan said. "Oh don't laugh, don't laugh. Never say never. Because limits, like fears, are often just an illusion. Thank you very much."


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