‘Be like Mike’.
It was the famous Gatorade commercial from the ‘90s that played on the gimmick that everyone wanted to be Michael Jordan, but no one could be.
As we learnt in the brilliant Netflix docu-series ‘The Last Dance’ however, being ‘like Mike’ is something that Jordan himself insisted no one would really want.
“It’s funny, but a lot of people told me they would like to be Michael Jordan for a day, a week, but let them try to be Michael Jordan for a year and see if they like it,” he said at the start of episode six. “I don’t think they quite understand it’s no fun.”
But what did it take to be ‘like Mike’? There was his ridiculous training schedule, his addiction to winning that he would stop at nothing to feed, his relentless pushing – or bullying, depending on which side of the fence you sit – of his teammates, his global fame, his charisma, his charm. The list goes on. Being ‘like Mike’ meant you were without rival or imperfection. You were “Black Jesus”.
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In sport, we’re always looking for the ‘next’. The next Cristiano Ronaldo, the next Shane Warne, the next Roger Federer. But will there ever be another Michael Jordan? Or is there one already?
There are a number of different claimants to the title of the Modern Day MJ, but whether any of them truly are is up for debate.
To be the Modern Day MJ, you need to be playing a globally celebrated sport and be instantly recognisable to tens of millions of people no matter where you are in the world. You also need to be playing a team sport, because you need to be able to be that alpha dog amongst alpha dogs.
The first person who comes to mind is Cristiano Ronaldo.
Superficially, he fits the bill. He has the look needed to be a global icon and he is a marketing guru’s dream. He is, along with Lionel Messi, the best to ever kick a football. He is relentless in his training to squeeze every last drop of talent out of himself, because ultimately winning is the most important thing to him.
This story from Ronaldo’s former Manchester United teammate Carlos Tevez certainly draws parallels to Jordan’s trainer’s stories about his unrivalled workrate.
“When the training was supposed to take place at 9am, I arrived there at 8 o’clock, but it turned out that he (Ronaldo) was already there. Even if I arrived at 7.30, he was already there too,”
“I started asking myself, ‘How can I get rid of this person?’ So one day I arrived at 6 o’clock, but it turned out, yes, he was there.”
But while training is where the two are so similar, it is also where they are most different. As Tevez said, Ronaldo was always there, but he was always alone. Jordan, on the other hand, would drag his teammates to those early morning workouts at his home and wouldn’t allow anyone have breakfast until he was satisfied they had worked hard enough.
“You ask all my teammates,” Jordan said in ‘The Last Dance’, “the one thing about Michael Jordan was, ‘he never asked me to do something that he didn’t f***ing do.’” Ronaldo didn’t do that.
You then contrast Jordan’s conversation with Steve Kerr in the clutch moment of the 1997 Finals against Utah Jazz to “be ready” with Ronaldo’s arm-around-the-shoulder moment with Joao Moutinho in the Euro 2016 penalty shootout where he told him, “You hit them well! If we lose, f*** it!”
Once you scratch a little deeper, Ronaldo isn’t the Modern Day MJ.
What about from basketball itself then? The thing against football is that it is almost impossible to dominate a game like you can in basketball. If Ronaldo or Messi have an off game, Barcelona or Juventus could still win, but if Jordan had a stinker, the Bulls would too.
Some claim LeBron James is the true King of the Rim, not Jordan, and that the Laker is actually a better player than the man he shares the No.23 with. After all, he’s got the GOAT status, he’s got the global appeal, he is an alpha male who dominates the court and he’s even starring in a movie alongside Bugs Bunny.
“When you think about an all-around basketball player,” Magic Johnson said this week,” [LeBron] probably is the best of all time as an all-around basketball player. But when you want to say ‘who is the greatest ever?’ It’s still Michael Jordan.”
What holds back James is that he has been perceived, like Ronaldo, to hunt the spotlight for himself rather than dragging is team into it with him. Whether that is fair or not is another matter but his controversial ‘The Decision’ show, where he announced he was “taking his talents to South Beach” will always be held against him in that regard.
It was reported on Friday that he had been secretly – and legally – holding one and two-person training with Lakers teammates while the league is on lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, which is a very Jordan-esque thing to do, however.
As well as James, the closest we might have to a Modern Day MJ is Tom Brady – the undisputed GOAT of the NFL. A six-time Super Bowl winner, a four-time Super Bowl MVP, the king of a dynasty and someone truly able to dominate a team sport just like Jordan could.
He demands the upmost from his teammates too. When moving to Tampa Bay Buccaneers this year he asked for the phone numbers of every one of his new teammates so he could whip them into shape – it was reportedly his only request upon signing.
He’s also been known to be exceptionally demanding of his wide receivers and former teammate Darrelle Revis once described his desire to win as “a sickness”.
“I think we has a sickness of just being very competitive and having that edge and just wanting that edge all the time and just wanting to destroy his opponents.”
Destroy his opponents. Now that sounds like MJ.
But then there astrix of Deflategate, the scandal that saw Brady order the deflation of footballs used in the Patiots’ AFC championship win over the Indianapolis Colts and be suspended for four games as a result.
In truth, it’s actually impossible to be ‘like Mike’ in sport today. Thanks to the internet and social media, everyone has an astrix by their names, of something they have done or allegedly done. You don’t need to publish your own Jordan Rules anymore.
If Ronaldo decked Paulo Dybala in training, or told Gonzalo Higuain he was “bulls***” after every game or refused to let Aaron Ramsey eat after a poor performance, you can be sure he would be sacked. It would be all over social media and trend across the internet for days on end.
Jordan grew up in and enhanced the era when you had to scratch and claw for every little bit of respect, when you bullied those who didn’t until they snapped and pushed back – or crushed and fell in on themselves. Sport is softer now, and probably for the better, meaning Jordan’s demands from his teammates wouldn’t be allowed to fly anymore.
Put simply, no one can ever truly be ‘like Mike’.