Notebook > Sports
Robert Willett/Raleigh News & Observer/MCT/Landov

Head of the class

Sports | Michael Jordan highlights a star-studded field of Hall of Fame inductees

Issue: "Africa, Inc.," Oct. 10, 2009

As was the case throughout his storied basketball career, Michael Jordan did not disappoint the capacity crowd that gathered at the Springfield Symphony Hall for his induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. The superstar's presence alone was enough to merit ticket prices of $1,000 and to inspire an ovation that thundered on for more than a minute.

But his 21-minute speech, complete with family history, basketball biography, and odes to inspiring figures along the way, gave spectators even more than their money's worth. Jordan exhibited the same authentic, relatable manner that has elevated him above athletes of comparable success and moved him beyond sports hero to cultural icon. Without hint of aggrandizement or false modesty, he spoke with matter-of-fact honesty about the emotions and decisions that fueled his journey.

Some commentators reacted negatively to the oration, suggesting Jordan used the time to settle scores with those who impeded his career and life advancement. But Jordan's willingness to talk straight is precisely what has so endeared him to millions. He is no public-relations stooge, mouthing vacuous scripts like so many image-conscious celebrities.

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That, coupled with Jordan's high-flying theatrics, represents a posture rarely emulated among today's athletes, many of whom topple into the unappealing ditches of the braggadocios or the overly self-effacing.

Not so the list of inductees joining Jordan in this year's Hall of Fame class, all fellow members of a bygone era. Jordan was careful to remind reporters that he alone did not constitute the 2009 class. John Stockton, the NBA's all-time career leader in assists and steals, David Robinson, a league MVP and two-time champion, and Jerry Sloan, among the most successful coaches in league history, rounded out the male contingent. C. Vivian Stringer, a women's basketball pioneer, was the lone female representative.

Each inductee reflected Jordan's tone, making comments consonant with their respective contributions to the game. Stockton reflected on the trepidation of his rookie season, when he saved every cent of his paycheck for fear that coaches would soon realize that a short, slow-footed kid from Spokane, Wash., didn't really belong in the NBA. Robinson credited the arrival of teammate Tim Duncan for pushing the Spurs over the top to a pair of championships.

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

Punched out

When Oregon running back LeGarrette Blount cold-cocked Boise State defensive end Byron Hout in the wake of an 18-9 season-opening loss, the sports media went into high gear. Every columnist, commentator, and fan seemed to hold an opinion on the matter. Some applauded when Blount was suspended for the remainder of the season. Some argued that Hout got what he deserved for provoking the act with an unsportsmanlike taunt.

Seemingly overlooked in that scramble for high moral ground was the role media played in dictating reaction. How might the aftermath of the incident have differed had the punch not played and replayed ad nauseam on national television? Many of the same networks that expressed disapproval with the severity of Blount's suspension likely contributed to that decision with undue coverage, rendering the altercation a national referendum on sportsmanship.

Blount and Hout participated in a scenario that plays out on athletic fields across the country every day. Blount's punishment didn't fit his crime, in large part because sensationalized reporting led to a perceived need to make an example of a kid who lost control.

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