Defining moments don’t always arise from the obvious.
I’m a huge basketball fan. I’m also a huge baseball fan. I played both games from when I was 10 years old until I hit my mid 20’s. By the time I hit 15 years of age, I realized that my dreams of making the majors or the NBA were not ever going to come to fruition. But I continued to play for another 10 years, simply for the love of the game.
For the love of the game; It’s a mantra that one of my sporting heroes had instilled in me as a child. And because of his love for the game, Michael Jordan brought himself to the pinnacle of basketball both as a player and a teammate, and he inspired millions of people along the way. His work ethic was something incredible. His on court brilliance that was almost other-worldly which sparked many claims that Mike was not of this world. But alien or not, he did often show his human side.
His decorated career spanned 15 seasons and included 6 rings, MVP’s, Scoring titles, and his 69-point game – these are just a few notables amongst a long list of his unlocked achievements. But where does the dial land on his most significant and defining accomplishment during his sporting career?
You might be taken back when I say that I believe it to be his short-lived professional baseball career.
Yeah, I know . . . But hear me out.
As I look ahead to the upcoming “I’m Back” Air Jordan 10 ,which celebrates Jordan’s return to the NBA from his first, 18-month retirement to professional baseball – it got me deliberating about his decision to leave and how profound and important that decision actually was.
Michael’s father was murdered in a botched road-side robbery just three months before the decision. It’s been well-documented that James Jordan’s death instrumentally shaped his son’s decision to retire from the NBA in 1993 to pursue a career in professional baseball. It was a dream that Michael and James had shared in years past, but quite evidently, basketball had always been Mike’s calling.
It was this retirement that came from left field, so to speak. It sent shockwaves through the Bulls organization, the entire NBA and it’s extended family of supporters, Bulls fans or otherwise inclined.
There was even the chance he would lose his multi-million dollar endorsements.
But in the face of all that expectations, he made the move. It was a courageous decision to change course at 31 years of age, during the prime of his career. All because he lost the love for one game, and rekindled it for another. How many of us can say we’ve truly followed our hearts like that in our lives? To give up a good (and extremely well paying) thing to chase that ever-elusive dream? The dream that most of us would never take the chance on. The dream that one day, you’ll regret not tackling head on?
Not many of us can.
If you look at his stat sheet from his time at the AA Birmingham Barons you can see his efforts were ordinary. He put up a .202/.289/.266 line over 497 plate appearances. He hit just three homers, stole 30 bases (but was thrown out 18 times) and played so-so defence in the outfield. But it’s the context of these figures that make it admirable.
Mike was 31 and had not played baseball for over a decade. He hit the minors with little preparation and competed extremely hard – the only way MJ has ever known – with respectable stat lines as a result, playing against career baseballers.
No, he was never going to be the GOAT of the diamond, and he knew that, but he still chose to follow his heart. With the expectations of his teammates, his franchise, his supporters, the media and his sponsors hanging over him at his peak, he still chose to follow his heart. And above that, with the incredible successes he had in basketball and with the huge chance of failing with the entire world watching on, he still chose to follow his heart.
Michael’s most defining accomplishment in his sporting career isn’t even about sports, It is about Michael’s confidence to truly be himself to follow his heart. to go against the expectations of others to make himself the happiest he could be during such a dark time. It was a decision he made for no other. Not for his fans. Not for the media. Not for his sponsors. To be brave enough to do what your heart desires in the face of resistance, ridicule and even resentment, is a personal victory that no championship ring could ever replace.
After all, he has to live with himself each and every day.
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