Wednesday, 28 November 2012


Big Game Worthy.


"On almost any other team, James Worthy would have been a superstar. He was that good. But because he played for the Lakers, he was always overshadowed by Kareem and me."-Magic Johnson (From The Autobiography 'My Life')

This month the Los Angeles Lakers finally unveiled their overdue immortalization of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in bronze. Near to the new homes of Chick Hearn and Jerry West outside STAPLES, 'Cap's statue stands ahead of Magic Johnson's leading sculpture. But what about the middle? Just look at this articles picture. Yeah, you're too busy looking at the sky-hook and the Magic man, but what about the middle? What about James? Big Game James. James Worthy.

"On court he was poetry in motion, a beautiful player to watch. I can't imagine our famous fast break without him. I provided the break, but James provided the fast."-Magic Johnson (From The Autobiography 'My Life').

The Statue Of Liberty stands proud in the Hudson, looking over New York City and the rest of the United States of America, holding a torch shining bright over the land. But even she isn't tall enough to make a Big Game dunk. Dominique Wilkins was the 'Human Highlight Film' who could even contest the greatest ever, Michael Jordan when it came to slam dunks, but even he wasn't as fundamentally sound as James to be chosen by the Showtime Lakers. With his Statue Of Liberty dunks and his full-court, impressive display of play, James Worthy was the definition of 'Big Game'. He was a superstar.

Still even in that big-name, big-game company James was overshadowed by the greatest passer and greatest scorer in NBA history. Still it takes more than a Snoop Dogg 'Lakers Theme' lyric to prove that "James is so Worthy". Even the late great spoken or written words of Chick Hearn and Jim Murray respectively couldn't quite convey it. The instant replays of the finger-rolls, quick spins and turnaround refrigerator closing jumpers couldn't quite capture it. Magic and Kareem are just those first, household names that will resonate in basketball membranes forever, but read NBA history books centuries from now and Worthy's name will still be there like it is on his jersey up next to the Wilt's and the West's of the rafters.

He belonged to a team like no other. A team who's star shine sometimes had the light taken off them by the sheen of their charismatic coach Pat Riley's slicked back, Gordon Gekko hair. Let alone the Hollywood, celebrity fanbase led by Jack Nicholson courtside, every game. Plus James wasn't for all that L.A. life and star-studded attention. With high-profile teammates like Michael Cooper, A.C. Green and Norm Nikon and larger than life personalities like Byron Scott and Kurt Rambis Worth' was in elite company. Still Jimmy Worthy was closer to the Shows one-two punch then their supporting cast. More Shaq and Kobe, then Fox, Fisher and Horry (despite the big game, clutch heroics).

The star who lived in L.A. but only got close to Hollywood when he played the tallest Klingon in 'Star Trek' was a reserved 6,9 forward with super power. In the golden era of the NBA he was next generation. Taking the above the rim, ABA play of Julius Erving and boldly going to the nineties with it. The 1st pick in the '82 draft racked up the championships (3) with the All-Star selections (7) along with an NBA Finals MVP in 1988 and 142 points off 60% shooting in a Finlas series against Boston where he WASN'T named Most Valuable. Overshadowed by another man in goggles, Jabbar. Johnson was right, James was THAT good. Maybe those who couldn't see had fog on their lenses. In Basketball sight, Worthy was 20, 20.

Magic may have started fast breaks, but Worthy's style and finesse finished them. The substance behind James big-game made him an all-round player too who deserved more than three NBA third team selections for his career. The NCAA champ and 'Outstanding Player' winner really graduate from college to the league with honors. Making North Carolina proud like his name was Michael and he was heading for Chicago. Who knows if Worthy's above the rim flightplan was destined for somewhere else other than Los Angeles? He could have been an even bigger star or winner, but alas, how can you sniff at a career that has given and achieved so much?

In Lakers lore Worthy is a legend and in overall NBA stakes he is one too. Just because he isn't an M.J. of North Carolina or Los Angeles doesn't mean he's not a star worthy of his own plaque on the NBA walk of fame. The Hall awaits. He'll follow the smooth of Jaamal Wilkes once again and be cemented as another Laker legend for a franchise whose name is even bigger than some of basketballs biggest stars surnames. That right Wilt, Shaq, Kobe and Magic. James Worthy deserves his statue right in the middle of Magic and Kareem too and one day it'll come. Those who don't believe or agree don't know basketball. Sure number 42 may have not won without number 33 or 32, but even Johnson and Jabbar know it wouldn't have been the same without James. The man in the middle helped centre the team. Big Game didn't have the biggest name but he was worthy of the biggest stage. How about James?

"James Worthy was Showtime."-Magic Johnson (From The Autobiography 'My Life').

Wednesday, 21 November 2012


The Second Career.


Game 1, NBA Finals, 1991.

Michael Jordan rises up with the ball in his hands with grace and beauty. Moving in his 'air' of slow motion like this was another Nike commercial. He lets the ball fly off the seams, with a perfect release. Everyone in Chicago Bull and Portland Trail Blazer uniforms, all the people in rows 'A' to 'nose bleed' and those watching at home and abroad watch as the ball catches the net with a perfect swish as the greatest man to ever play basketball let's the goose-neck hang. Hitting his sixth three-pointer before the first-half even comes to a close, Jordan jogs back down the court, looks at an amazed broadcaster and simply raises his arms and shrugs. I don't know.

But then...

1 Year Later.

It's a hot day out in the park and everybody and their momma are out in force, with caps, dogs and sunglasses and soda to match. All eyes are on the mound as the pitcher throws the ball towards the batter who awkwardly swings and misses. He tries again, the number 45 twisting with tension, but his 6, 6 frame just doesn't seem to look right, as the catcher mitt engulfs the ball to some cruel boos and even crueller cheers. The batter looks down and taps his bat on the ground with a mixture of frustration and focus as he knows this is his last shot. The longest few seconds of his life then turn into a blur as he hears that dreaded sound of the glove again (and we aren't talking about Gary Payton trash talking) and then the embarrassing cry nobody wants to hear "STRIKE THREE, YOU'RE OUT OF HEERE"! Head-down, bat swinging between his legs Michael Jordan walks off the field with doubts and questions in the bleachers. Up in the commentary booth a broadcaster looks down at the field, at a fellow broadcaster, back down to the field and shrugs.

His 39 point, per-minute basis, best Game Score in the history of the NBA Finals since the league merged with the ABA was a distant but fond memory. Something else bigger took its place. On the 6th October 1993 Michael Jordan announced that his desire to play the game had gone and he would be retiring from the game he changed. Michael Jordan then picked up sticks up and set out for a career in minor league Baseball. From the leading the Bulls to riding the bus the sports world was stunned and the basketball had lost its greatest player and icon ever. I can't explain it either.

Let's take it back again to September of 2009 as Michael Jordan was inducted into the Naismith Hall Of Fame. During this time I was writing a few articles for SLAM magazines website. To honour his induction I pitched a different idea for a story about Mike. With everybody talking about the same thing or career moments like 'the flu game' (yep, I've done it too) or the last shot I wanted to talk about his 'real last shot' with a look at his time with the Washington Wizards. In a celebratory week many would have opted to ignore his 'floor Jordan', dunk and postseason missing time but it was still a highlight reel worthy time that showed he could still genuinely play this game. More than that it had a more human side of grace and care about the man, especially with the timing of his mid-September hall moment. Little did people know but Mike donated his entire playing salary with Washington to the September 11th relief fund. Maybe one of the biggest and kindest moves he or anyone else in sports has ever made in their career.

Only one other decision in his career echo's the same honest heartfelt and soulful sentiment of this. A decision that shows just how great a person 'Money' is beyond the bullshit of unfathomable fame and millions. Many sneered at Michael Jordan when he tried out for baseball. Many laughed. Others ridiculed him in sports press. Many accused him of taking other, younger players chances. Others said he was making a mockery of the game, trying to just walk in. They fail to realize that this was no movie-making moment. He didn't land on the playing field in a space ship like a scene in 'Space Jam'. His decision may have been treated like LeBron's back in the day but it was both out of this world and down to earth...and Mike didn't care if it was televised.

Like the Spike Lee spot said, "at least he's trying". He didn't care if he rode the bus or the bench. He just wanted to play...and earn his right to play too. That's why he was in the batting cage at dawn, like he was in the gym with the peach and basket at dusk during his time in the air of the second-city skies. He earned his right too, between trying out with the Chicago White Sox. Then batting for the Sox minor league affiliate the Birmingham Barons with an average of .202, to go along with three home runs, 51 runs batted in and 30 stolen bases. He further earned his place by batting .252 for the Scottsdale Scorpions in the 1994 Arizona Fall League. Mike may have struggled at first but then he strived and survived baseball even hitting 7 game winners out the park to show that money was still clutch even when he had a bat instead of a ball in his hand.

"If anyone didn't think I was serious it was because they could not see the blood dripping off my hands or those 6.A.M. batting sessions"-Michael Jordan.

He only retired from his brief foray into the sticks when the dreaded sports enemy of strikes threatened the league and soured his dream. At a time when the league wanted to abuse Mike's celebrity by putting him in the big leagues for show, Michael did the opposite of what he was cruelly accused and awfully criticised for. He chose not to take the place of another player who would have worked hard to earn their deserving spot. It didn't get this real and inspiring until Brad Pitt showed us just what Billy Beane did for the Oakland A's, baseball and the world of sports and business as a whole. 'Moneyball' indeed.

Still why was this move from basketball to baseball his most moving and heartfelt and soulful statement? It wasn't because of his selfless, humble turn from basketball superstar to baseball everyman. It wasn't his pride swallowing, critical endurance either. For the record too, those who couldn't even be bothered to formulate a better verb to describe his career then 'shit' fail to realise that he was actually a good ballplayer. With the Wilson instead of the Spalding Michael may have proved he was a baseball mortal to his basketball God but he is one of the only people to excel in two sports. It wasn't what he did for the baseball world and minor league exposure. It's not the considerate, arrogance at the door way he entered the game.

It's the fact that he did it to honour his father who a year before was horrifically murdered. Every son wants to make his father proud...and Mike will have done that before he even picked up a basketball, let alone a club. Still the man who sticks his tongue out at the basket to emulate James R. Jordan, Sr at work followed his father’s dream of him playing baseball. That's all that needs to be said. That's all that matters. This was no round of rounders. This dedication was deeper than the 'Boys & Girls' club in his father’s name. Like Magic's tears for his dad in his MVP speech this was a public display of beautiful affection. It didn't matter what anybody else said because Mike father was looking down and smiling. Michael Jordan was a real baseball player.

But then...

1 Year Later.