Michael Jordan’s Hall of Fame speech was, if anything, divisive, motivating many observers to proclaim it unworthy of the greatest player of all time. Anyone listening knows that it was bluff and bracing and unsentimental, but it also felt like a case study, the kind of unpartitioned disclosure that allows you to take him in whole, revealing a perfect slice of the man’s brain.
He spoke just as he played, mordant and unbending, to those competitors who galvanized him as much, if not more so, than his friends and teammates with whom he shared those moments. The way in which he spoke did not lend to the idea that he had come to celebrate, but to eulogize and put to rest a career that had been iced and grave-ready since he last played for the Washington Wizards on April 16, 2003.
It is easy to scoff when a world-class athlete assumes a persecution complex for motivation, an us vs. the world mentality, and yet Jordan did this in innovative ways. He always fed on the smallest slight, consciously seeking impetus for desire, and when he could not find it, he did the unexpected. This is the man who, after vanquishing all challengers, left his throne at the height of his power to pursue a career as a baseball player.
His basketball prime never quite aligned with Bird or Magic; he cast such an immense presence that others in his era only seemed to fall in and out of his orbit. Charles Barkley, who was named one of the greatest players of all time, once admitted that he would never beat Jordan. No one in his generation burned quite as bright.
Those who did not want Jordan’s legacy tarnished by a Wizards comeback presumed to see his career in the arc of a highlight reel, one that is appropriately paced and climactic. Age seemed just another challenge to him, and thus to him his legacy was in his desire, but time was something that he could never beat. At his induction it looked like time had finally caught up to him.