Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Being Like Mike

Im about to write about two athletes whose names you would never expect to see in the same breath. Theyre two different races doing two different jobs in two different eras. One is a household name; the other is not even that well-known within his own specialty--only a fraction of fans would recognize his name.

Lets start with the one almost everybody knows. Lets start with Michael Jordan.

Michael Fucking Jordan. Mr. Be Like Mike.

I never wanted to Be Like Mike. Truthfully, I never much liked Mike. I resented Mike.

He was the man who killed my dreams of seeing John Stockton with an NBA ring.


Jordan and his Bulls were always front runners, and Ive never been a guy who cared much for the favorites. Thats why Stockton was my favorite basketball player. He was short, relatively unathletic, and visually unimpressive. Yet by working hard, playing smart, and making the people around him better carved a place for himself in the game that might never be matched.

But lets be honest. He was no Michael Jordan.

Nobody was.

I dont think its possible to describe just how dominant Michael Jordan was at his peak both on the court and in the public imagination. Im not even going to try. But you know those articles making a case for why LeBron James (and before him, Kobe Bryant) should be considered all time greats and that you should appreciate them, goddamn it?

Nobody wrote those kinds of articles about Michael Jordan.

Why? Because nobody needed to.

Nigel McGuiness on the other hand

There was a time--a period of six months to a year, maybe--when Nigel McGuiness was arguably putting on some of the best professional wrestling matches around. Notice I used the words arguably and some in that last sentence. Nigel was never the Michael Jordan of pro wrestling. He was, however, very very good. Two of his notable opponents included Bryan Danielson and Kurt Angle, both former WWE champions who are also in the arguably among the greatest category. None of his matches happened on wrestlings largest stage, the WWE, so he never  entered the public consciousness.

Nigel McGuiness and Michael Jordan. Michael Jordan and Nigel McGuiness. Two names that would never be put together except for two articles that came out on the same week. This one on McGuiness and this one on Jordan.

Theyre good, I promise. Ill wait while you read them.


See what I mean? Of course you do. Except for you, you fucker, who couldnt be bothered to click on the link.

Jordan and McGuiness lived different lives, and yet both of them are in the same place, retired and struggling beneath the weight of their pasts. Jordan lives in the shadows of the things he achieved; McGuiness under the shadow of the things he didn

Your career doesnt have to be over to struggle with these issues. In his book, Countdown to Lockdown, another pro wrestler, Mick Foley, grapples with the same problem. Once one of the most popular wrestlers in the world who was renowned for taking death defying risks, a broken down Foley finds himself trying to put together a match for a smaller company, a match which will be forgotten about in less than a week, assuming anyone sees it at all. Foley is trying to find satisfaction doing a job--one that a) doesnt matter that much and b) that he is not physically capable of doing to his former standards.

Of course, you dont necessarily have to get worse as you get older. Some get better at their job, only do discover the world has moved on. Bands like Warrant, Winger, and W.A.S.P., for example, put out some of their best music long after people stopped listening to bands like Warrant, Winger, and W.A.S.P.

In fairness, these bands didnt get a lot of respect outside their fanbases when they WERE doing well. Winger in particular got a lot of hate based on their look which is too bad because musically, they were a lot better than people gave them credit for. Ive seen many a bar band shipwrecked on the rocks of Seventeen”’s post-solo breakdown, the singer looking around for his cue as he slipped below the waves.

The point is, whether youre ready or not, whether youve accomplished what you want to or not, things come to an end. Youll shoot your final jump shot or sell your last body slam. Youll run your last marathon. Youll fuck your last supermodel.

Weve mostly been talking sports and music here, but its true of everything. No matter what you do, one day, you wont be able to do it anymore. There will be a last time for everything. The last time you do your job. The last time you see your parents. Your last child learning to walk, talk, and--eventually--graduate and move out.

When those things are gone, what do you have left? Where will you find your meaning when you are no longer needed or able to fill those roles that once defined you? What do you about the questions in your mind--the if onlys and what would have happened if I knew what I know now?  What do we do about the realization that it isnt just the things in our life that will end? Seeing these things come and go brings us to the realization that it isnt just our accomplishments that will eventually cease. One day we will kiss our last loved one; well breathe our last breath; our heart will deliver its final beat.

These arent rhetorical questions. Id really like to know the answer. Because at thirty-nine years of age, Im finding myself facing similar questions.

King Osric in Conan the Barbarian had an answer. Speaking to a younger, brawnier Austrian-accented barbarain he said: "There comes a time, thief, when the jewels cease to sparkle, when the gold loses its luster, when the throne room becomes a prison, and all that is left is a father's love for his child. "

I dont have a daughter. But I do know something about love.

I may never reach the heights I hoped for as a writer or stand-up comic, but I love writing comedy now more than I ever have.

Heres a better example: Right now, Im learning the choreography for NSYNCs Its Gonna Be Me off Youtube videos. If you asked me why, I couldnt tell you. Its a great song with fun choreography, but its not the greatest single achievement of the late 90s/early 200s boy band craze--that particular honor, goes to the Backstreet Boys music video The Call, which sums up centuries of Buddhist doctrine on karma and rebirth in less than four minutes while simultaneously providing an awesome visual mash-up combining Fatal Attraction, The Matrix, the pharmacy scene in Natural Born Killers, The Shining ,The Game, and The Blair Witch Project.

Theres nothing special about Its Gonna Be Me. Theres also nothing special about me learning the choreography. Im not even learning it very completely or very welljust puttering around with bits and pieces here and there, skipping the parts I think look either too stupid, too hard, or I just cant figure out.

Theres no reason to do it other than the love of doing it. And as for the parts I cant dowell, I do them as best I can. Or I dont do them. And I love that too. So if you ever see me dancing publicly--and you might--dont expect to see the worlds greatest dancer. But if youre looking to find someone who loves what he does..?

Guess what? Its gonna be me.

But the truth is, it doesnt matter what works for me. Or Mike. Or Nigel. Or Mick Foley, Kip Winger, Lance Bass or anybody else. Its realization enough to know that all of us find ourselves facing these questions in some form or another. We often face them by ourselves, but we never face them alone because those questions in our heart echo in the hearts of others from the biggest superstar to the ordinariest of ordinarypersons.

We dont have to do anything to Be Like Mike.

We already are like Mike.

And Mike, the record-setting, six time NBA champion who twice cockblocked John Stockton out of a championship ring with a little help from those goddamned officials who gave him EVERY SINGLE FUCKING CALLultimately, hes just like us.

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