The many sides of Michael Jordan are on colourful display in new Netflix doco series The Last Dance – but with the series concentrating on his playing career until 1998, it then doesn't feature perhaps the most telling moment of his career: the extremely bitter, train wreck of a speech he gave when being inducted into the Basketball Hall Of Fame in 2009.
Jordan is one of the most famous people on the planet. He is universally acknowledged to be not only the greatest basketball player of all time, but the most popular, too.
He spawned a billion dollar merchandising empire based solely on how good at basketball he was. Like Mickey Mouse, Kermit the Frog, or Bart Simpson, his silhouette is instantly recognisable around the world. He is an icon. Yet, for some reason, he seems to feel cheated.
Remember Uncle Rico in Napoleon Dynamite, and his endless fascination with the "what-if" moment in his high school football career? "If Coach woulda put me in fourth quarter," he bemoaned countless times, listing the upward trajectory that surely would have followed if only he had been on the field during that crucial play. "We would have been State Champions for sure. No doubt, no doubt in my mind."
In his enshrinement speech, Jordan comes across like Uncle Rico. But while Rico is drowning in imagined glories and the bitterness that comes from a dream life not lived, Michael Jordan actually became the champion. He was the greatest.
Yet, in 2009, he was still trying to prove how good he was. He chose to do this, during his own night of nights, by dredging up old, petty grudges. By railing on those who ever undervalued him, overlooked him.
He uses his speech to settle scores so old they were marked with an abacus. He re-fights enemies who have long moved on, bitterly brings up old rivalries while admitting they were fashioned only in his head.
Note: Jordan got onto the stage with his eyes wet from having cried at a highlights package of him playing. Which I mention only to set the scene.
The speech starts with some already-stilted small talk about the pleasantries of the evening thus far, before he turns his attention to his brothers.
He notes their diminutive heights – 5 foot 4 (164cm) and 5 foot 5 (168cm), versus Mike's 6 foot 6 (201cm) – and adds, "they gave me all I could ever ask for as a brother in terms of competition," which is an odd thing to thank them for.
Then he jumps to his high school days, and singles out his friend Leroy Smith, who made their school Varsity team in a year when Michael did not. Now, you need to know some backstory. Jordan flew his old friend Leroy out to Springfield to be at this ceremony, ostensibly to celebrate the career of his old high school buddy.
He then, however, singles him out in his speech, makes another strained joke about his height, and then here's what follows: "When he made the team and I didn't, I wanted to prove not just to Leroy Smith, not just to myself, but to the coach that picked Leroy over me, I wanted to make sure you understood: You made a mistake dude."
Now, at this point it's still possible this is all a joke. The audience laughs, nervously. It's hard to tell. Then he moves onto a guy named Buzz Peterson, who was named High School Player Of The Year over Jordan in 1981.
A year later they were roommates at the University of North Carolina, on the same team – but Jordan was still burning up from the previous year's snub. "And from that point on, he became a focal point," he says. "Not knowingly; he didn't know it – but he did."
Then he goes in on his college coach, who highlighted four of his players in a Sports Illustrated feature, but neglected to mention Jordan in the article.
"That burned me up," he tells the audience, although the past participle clearly doesn't apply. "I thought I belonged on that Sports Illustrated. Now he had his own vision about giving a Freshman that exposure, and I totally understand that, but from a basketball sense I deserved to be on that Sports Illustrated, and he understands that."
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Keep in mind, he is talking about one issue of a weekly sports magazine that came out 28 years before this speech. By now, the room seems genuinely baffled. There is an uncomfortable air around "Air Jordan". It's great viewing, even if I still cannot watch without getting uncomfortable goose bumps.
Jordan then spends the rest of the speech – his Hall of Fame induction speech, remember – calling out people on perceived slights so incredibly slight it's doubtful any of those involved remember them at all. But they still burn Jordan up. Clearly. And so he spends his entire speech naming names from decades past.
Here's a partial list of those who wronged Jordan in the vivid, vivid past. There was the Chicago Bulls team doctor in the '80s who once recommended he limit his on-court action to seven minutes a game after returning from a foot injury so severe it sidelined him for 65 games.
The Bulls coach who dared to tell Jordan he couldn't play in the off-season summer league because he was a team asset and therefore an injury risk.
Another NBA player who dared to claim he could guard Jordan.
Jordan then turns on the Hall of Fame itself for charging $1000 a ticket for the dinner, tickets the billionaire was forced to shell out for in order for his family and friends to attend his big night. "It used to be 200 bucks", he notes. "But I paid it, you know, I had no choice. I had a lot of family, a lot of friends I had to bring in … so thank you Hall of Fame for raising ticket prices, I guess."
It's a complete train wreck by this point. Talking about his children, he notes the "heavy burden" they have, in following his giant, swoosh-embossed shoes, and rambles for a bit about family, before snidely referencing "relatives coming out of the woodwork".
He then turned to a few other NBA legends such as Magic Johnson and Isiah Thomas and brought up a perceived "freeze-out" during the 1985 NBA All-Star Game, in which he thinks, perhaps correctly, that they all plotted not to pass the ball to him.
Michael Jordan was furious for 24 years, because some guys didn't toss him the ball.
Pat Riley is perhaps the most legendary NBA coach alive. For some reason, Jordan tells a story of a squabble over a hotel room in Hawaii, in which Jordan comes across as insanely petty. He then accuses Pat Riley of having told his New York Knicks players they couldn't have lunch with Michael. This was in the mid-90s. A lunch snub.
He ends his speech by threatening to make an NBA comeback at age 50. The audience, grateful for this lighthearted pressure release, laughed a little too heartily.
"Oh, don't laugh", he snapped. "Never say never." He then says some slogans about dreams and achieving things.
The footage of the 23-minute speech is breathtaking in its angry arrogance. The air is let out of the entire room. You will never see a more confusing, awkward speech.
But it's also the saddest speech you will ever see.
Here is a guy, who is unquestionably the Greatest Of All Time. But he still feel slighted. He still needs everyone to know that he isn't just The Greatest, he is far GREATER than anyone realises. His high school coach, his college roommate, the team doctor, his NBA opponents.
His brothers, his children, his best friend. Michael Jordan achieved things that most people could never dream of, but he is unhappy. He is dissatisfied. He feels cheated.
It is well known that Michael Jordan is an obsessive gambler. He once bet Charles Barkley $600,000 that he would sink one putt.
At the airport, he once bet his teammates that his luggage would come out the carousel first, won the bet, and then gloated later about how he paid the ground staff to rig it.
He stayed up all night playing poker the night before the Gold medal game at the 1992 Olympics.
His first "retirement", when he went off to play baseball for 18 months, is heavily rumoured to have actually been a suspension from the league, due to his unchecked gambling addiction.
He once lost $5 million in Vegas at a single craps table in a single night. He needs to compete. He needs to dominate. He needs to win, and, most importantly, he needs you to know that he won.
He has picked away at minor scratches inflicted in high school and three decades later, they are gaping wounds. Michael is the greatest but he feels underrated.
Michael is the greatest. That is clear. But it's clear from this speech that he didn't win.
He picked at those old wounds and bled onto the stage at his Hall of Fame ceremony, a night that should have been a celebration of his incredible, singular career. Instead, he used it as a petty score-settling exercise, coming across as not the greatest of all time but a sore loser standing in the middle of the court demanding another rematch, long after everyone has already packed up and gone home for tea.