Posted by: vanhoff | April 14, 2008

Michael Jordan: His Airness

Michael Jordan: His Airness

 

Michael Jordan was an athlete that excelled beyond any expectation held for most elite athletes of today. As a professional basketball player, Jordan created athletic dreams for millions who watched him play the game, and became an icon for generations of sports enthusiasts. For Jordan was a hero to many and still is to this day, from those living in impoverished conditions to grade school children emulating his “moves,” his status as a role model and athlete still gives hope to many. Jordan raised the bar for professional athletes during his career; and created a status quo of standards that future role models would try to imitate. However, to become a hero one must have characteristics that meet the criteria set forth by society, and that criterion includes a multitude of sociological facets that make for a hero and role model. For Jordan is the quintessential of role model athletes. “Air Jordan,” a nickname given for his high-jump dunks, forever revolutionized the game of basketball and what it means to be a true role model.

For Jordan to become a role model he had to face adversity, overcome obstacles that impede success and characteristics that embody what society deems as heroic and/ or noteworthy. The very definition of a role model is one who serves as an example of the values, attitudes, and behaviors associated with a role. (Random House Unabridged Dictionary, Random House, Inc. 2006) But for Jordan that role was not just within the realm of values and attitudes, but the heroism to beat adversity. When Jordan became a hero he had faced adversity in the eyes, and beat the obstacles that had impeded his life. However, Jordan was more known for his defiance of gravity with his spectacular dunks and last second shot wins, than with his childhood background. Both heroes and role models share many of the same characteristics; the only difference is that heroes perform some act that defies what most in society can accomplish.

As a child, his emphasis was in baseball; however he enjoyed playing both football and basketball as well. As a child of three, he had an older brother who excelled at basketball and played Michael constantly one-on-one, only to beat him at his game every time. However, this only motivated him and his determination to beat big brother only furthered his love for basketball. As time passed Jordan grew physically, and his skills on the basketball court improved dramatically; ironically he was cut from his high school team sophomore year. This again perpetuated his desire to excel on the court. He grew to almost 6’5 by the time he was a senior in high school, and played varsity both as a junior and senior in high school. Prospects from all over sought to have Jordan play on their college team, and he eventually accepted a scholarship to the University of North Carolina. However he decided to leave college early, and pursue a professional career in basketball.

 Michael Jordan was always determined to win in any situation. His teachers remember Michael coming to school at six in the morning to practice. He was extremely driven, and that shined through as he entered college and began playing basketball at the University of North Carolina. His dedication to practicing and being the best he could be led him to professional basketball. For these reasons alone are enough to call him a role model, however to become a hero one must defy odds, beat the system, or a classical mythology definition would be that of godlike prowess and beneficence who often came to be honored as a divinity. For Jordan became godlike in the eyes of millions; and he acknowledged his role as a model for millions of children trying to identify themselves within their own social culture.

Jordan became a hero not just from the two three-peat’s with his career as a Chicago Bull nor the multiple Most Valuable Player awards, but when he was pursued by Nike to be their new spokesperson. Previously, the advertising world had been dominated by the white upper-middle class strata, despite the fact that some of the best athletes were minorities. In the 1980s, with Nike, Jordan broke through an invisible sociological barrier that had prevented blacks from being product spokespersons. Jordan’s acceptance by white consumers was one more step in breaking the race barrier, and perhaps a catalyst in our ongoing racial healing. Now, in the twenty-first century, Jordan is moving ahead as CEO of his own “Jordan” brand, pricing shoes at twenty percent below Nike’s, recognizing the limited resources of many of his fans.

As a student in sociology, and as a former high school basketball player, I will contest that Michael Jordan will forever be the last, true hero of sports. A hero and role model who focused strictly on improving his game, not his bank account (though he was paid millions for his ads and his career as an NBA superstar). Jordan’s focus was team success and later he pursued his childhood dream of becoming a professional baseball player. When his father, James R. Jordan Sr., was shot during a robbery his motivation for the game dwindled; for he was “burned out” and needed closure. Surprisingly, after his first retirement from the NBA he signed on with the Chicago White Sox minor league team, the Birmingham Barons. He tried, but never developed to become a major league contender. However, when I saw him play at Bill Myer Stadium against the Knoxville K-Jays, he was a major league star to me and for the thousands of spectators. For many, his accomplishments on the court are just the tip of the iceberg. He was a model of perfection, a man of stature that faced adversity on and off the court. As a child, no other athlete could compare to Jordan as my mentor. He shaped how I played, for me to emulate Mike as I drove to the basket with my tongue out; I remembered that to be like Mike you needed to have patience, skill, and sportsmanship. For that, Michael Jordan will always reign as my hero.

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Responses

  1. Great write up about MJ. You didn’t mention his charitable work, which has been extensive. He’s given so much to the Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs of America and continues to support them. He is a true role model.


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