OPINION "From the deepest desires often come the deadliest hate" Ok, the word hate might be a bit extreme, but this quote by the philosopher Socrates resonates the feelings I had towards his airness Michael Jeffrey Jordan.
by Cameron Schuster I 17 May 2020
Did I have a deep desire to “be like Mike” - afterall back in 1993 when I first witnessed MJ he was leading the NBA in scoring, he already had three league MVP trophies in his cabinet and won two title rings with the Bulls over the showtime Lakers with an aging Magic Johnson and an upstart Portland Trailblazers the years previous. Mike was sitting high and mighty on top of the world and 1993 was the year I first started watching NBA Action, a highlight show on TV. I wasn't familiar with the amazing achievements MJ held at that time as I only started to have an interest in the sport of basketball so it was the first year I followed the NBA. It was the year I felt compelled to support the Phoenix Suns because of their all-star player the Round Mound of Rebound Charles Barkley, then in 1994 I was introduced to the 3-point shooting of Reggie Miller and the legendary rivalry between the Indiana Pacers and the New York Knicks grabbed my attention. But 1993 was the year the first team I ever supported was the Phoenix Suns, it was the year the Suns made it to the NBA Finals and lost to MJ. It was the year the Chicago Bulls completed their first three peat. It was the year my hate for Michael Jordan began.
People remember how absorbing Sir Charles was as a player, both for his controversial antics on and off the court, his short stature and his versatility, he had game. For the 1992-93 season Barkley was traded from Philadelphia 76ers to the Phoenix Suns and immediately turned his new team into a title contender, he averaged 25.6 points, 5.1 assists and 12.2 rebounds per game on his way his first and only MVP award, so I became a big fan of Sir Charles that year. It was hard not to become a Suns fan though, the team doned the new “streaking sun” logo on the uniform which has become a classic throwback jersey item today. It was the first time I had seen a deep 3-point shooter in Thunder Dan Majerle, a very quick have no fear attitude drive to the hole Kevin Johnson, the feisty veteran Danny Ainge and a young Cedric Ceballos. This team for me was exciting to watch, especially Barkley. As a power forward he was a dominant force in the paint with his rebounding and defence but he also had a 3-point shot and could handle the ball. I was all in for the Suns as if I lived in the state of Arizona, like Auckland and Blues rugby the Suns were my team. The Suns held the best record in the regular season, I watched them go through the western conference playoffs sending the Lakers, Spurs and Seattle Supersonics to their summer holidays early and so by tipoff in game one of the NBA Finals... I was a believer. Michael Jordan would say otherwise, Chuck may have the MVP award but it's the championship ring that matters and so the Bulls went on to win the series culminating in the game winning 3-point shot by John Paxton in game six. (only one of two players in the Bulls to score in that entire 4th quarter, Jordan was the other) That loss hurt, it hurts like a New South Welshman amongst Queensland's 8 year State of Origin dominance (12 if you include NSWs win in 2014) as an Auckland Rugby supporter the Chicago Bulls became my Canterbury Crusaders. The following 1993-94 NBA season Jordan retired and the Bulls were eliminated by the New York Knicks in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. The Phoenix Suns were also removed from the playoffs in the Western Conference Semifinals by the Houston Rockets so after that, I Thought there was no reason to watch the rest of the playoffs, but the best was yet to come, and that best was the 1994 Eastern Conference Final between the Indiana Pacers vs the New York Knickerbockers.
Some would argue the moment Michael Jordan transcended to the NBA elites was “the shot” over Craig Ehlo to win the 1989 Eastern Conference First Round Series. Jordan lovers would probably argue the actual moment was his game winning shot to win the 1982 NCAA Championship game for his University of North Carolina Tar Heels. For shooting guard Reggie Miller that moment came in Game 5 of the 1994 Eastern Conference Finals against the New York Knicks, where he scored 25 fourth quarter points putting on a shooting exhibition and made infamous the choke sign and trash talk with movie director and Knick fan Spike Lee. Although the Knicks would beat the Pacers in seven games that year, Reggies all-star performance initiated his rise to be one of the NBAs top shooting guards and a player I began to admire to the point where I mimicked his moves on the basketball court at my high school. The Knick-Pacers rivalry became one of the most bitter rivalries in the NBA and when they met in the Eastern Conference playoffs 1993-1995 you knew there was going to be fireworks. From John Starks headbutt in ‘93 to Reggie’s clutch 8 points in the final 16 seconds to win game one at Madison Square Garden in ‘95 it was edge of your seat stuff and the physicality was brutal. These were the only games I was excited for at the time and so I switched my allegiance from the Suns to the Pacers. MJ had retired in 94 and early 95 before his late season comeback, unfortunately it wasn't enough, Reggie had to wait until 2000 to be in the NBA finals against the Kobe and Shaq Lakers and lost that series, but that's another story. Reggie and the Pacers would meet Michael Jordan and the Bulls in the 1998 Eastern Conference Finals, it was the Pacers chance to stop the second three peat and it looked like they were making progress taking the Bulls to a rare Game Seven in the series, not to mention Reggie’s last second game winner heroics in Game 4 to tie up the series. But it wasn't meant to be, the only teams and players I have supported have both been defeated by MJ. The Bulls routed the Pacers in the second half of game seven (damn you MJ) to send them to another Finals with the Utah Jazz and the rest is history. With the second three peat complete Michael retired again solidifying his position in basketball circles as the G.O.A.T.. which he still holds to this day.
Out of the All-Star players at the time of the 90s none was brighter than Michael Jordan because he was a winner. His will to win was so strong he turned games around in an instant when it mattered, he had the Lincoln Hawk cap turned backwards on the court. MJ was the roadblock which kept my guys Sir Charles and Reggie from winning a championship ring. I write this article to coincide with Michael Jordans Netflix documentary series “The Last Dance” out now, which follows MJ and the Chicago Bulls through the two three peats. In the Last Dance I am reminded of a time in the NBA where there were no hand check rules and a league that had more physicality than the modern era. I am reminded of heartache from the 1993 NBA Finals vs the Phoenix Suns in episode 6 but I did learn that as well as Sir Charles winning MVP that year, Bulls General Manager Jerry Krause’s love for Phoenix’s Thunder Dan Majerle also fueled MJ’s fire to win. This would be a recurring theme in the documentary series on how MJ could channel the miniscule negatives in order to motivate him to win games which to me right now is fascinating to say the least. I await the conclusion of the documentary which will be released tomorrow on Netflix for further reminders, this time the 1998 Eastern Conference Final vs Reggie Miller and the Indiana Pacers. Yes, I find the whole Last Dance documentary intriguing. Finally I get to see more of the enemy's mind and find out the mechanics behind his competitive spirit and the trials and tribulation it brings. The Last Dance has not been disappointing at all and Listening to Michaels story so far has chipped away at what was left of my hatred since MJ’s third and final retirement. Martin Luther King Jr said “I have decided to stick with love, hate is too great a burden to bear” I should not have had to watch The Last Dance to figure that out.