Michael Jordan turns 50 on Sunday, a milestone that marks a half-century of the greatest player ever to play the game. He’s been out of basketball for nearly a decade, but his legend remains whether on sneakers, memories or game tape. Dime explores the greatest aspects of the GOAT’s career for his birthday. Today: Why it’s important you should know the best ever challenged the next generation.
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Most remember classic Michael Jordan commercials that instructed us to “Be Like Mike.” Younger generations of hoopers, though, remember Jumpman commercials that not only encouraged being better than Mike, but ones that declared that it will happen when, at some point, someone will pass him.
“Will you be the one?” asked a 2005 ad for the Air Jordan XX, to which numerous young Jordan disciples intently listened to Spike Lee chronicle MJ’s story from the high school player who got cut to the greatest professional player of all time, while simultaneously questioning that title.
This article neither predicts “the one” will be Kobe nor supports the rival pick that it will be LeBron. It doesn’t compare supporting casts or embark on a statistical rampage, either. Whether LeBron holds a career regular season average of 6.9 assists per game compared to Jordan’s 5.3, or that Jordan shot 49.7 percent from the field compared to Kobe’s 45.4 percent, is less important.
The real message becomes clear when Lee says: “Somewhere, someone is practicing,” to which the chorus of kids question, “Who is it?”
The clip ends without an answer. And there never will be a definitive answer of who will be The One.
Ballplayers pour their souls out onto hardwood floors thinking that their mark will never be touched. Of all people Jordan could have easily left the game and said that there will never be someone who will be able to do the things that he did and better. That there will never be another who could revolutionize the style and competitiveness of basketball, of professional sports, like he did. But instead he welcomed the idea that someone could — even if a copywriter wrote the ad, it’s still his name on it. Whether that’s happening now or 50 years down the line or a time none of us see is another matter.
That’s not to say Jordan will eagerly sit back and let it happen, though. It seems more of an invitation, a dare. Pictures solely displaying his head and hands adorned with the six golden rings dare anyone to try to even think about beating him, to even have the audacity to look him in the eye and say “I want to try.” He’ll still lace up his J’s at 90 and with that same stare, that I’m-going-to-score-on-you-to-the-left-first-at-the-elbow, then I’m-taking-it-to-the-hole-and-you-can’t-do-anything-about-it, stare. Forget looking at your stomach. He’d look right through you.
This challenge is in no way an insult to his incredible legacy. His embrace of competition is instead a testament to the passion he had for working on one’s game so rigorously to the point where you can never be satisfied with your performance. You can always do more; there will never be a work-on-list left unchecked. That’s why Jordan understood that there will be millions who will take take the floor after he left it. And millions more who can set their alarm clocks at 5 a.m. like he did and run stairs. Get 500 jumpers up. Run 17’s. Then get 500 more up. That anyone has the potential to be next.
That is his gift to the game of basketball. And as his 50th birthday arrives Sunday, we should thank him for it. Thank him for teaching us this lesson—not how to “Be Like Mike,” but how to be better than him.
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