It was twenty years ago this week that Michael Jordan traded in his signature #23 basketball jersey, dutifully worn through three back to back NBA titles, in favor of the pinstripes of the hapless Chicago White Sox baseball team. Jordan was a world class athlete who showed night in and night out that he was the best on the hardwood. He could twist and move, he could bump and groove, he would contort his body to a level that could make an Olympic gymnast blush, and he could put the ball in the hole at will. His teammates stood in awe, while his opponents shuddered in fear. #23, Michael Jeffrey Jordan was His Airness, arguably the greatest to ever play the game.
In February of 1994, all of that changed, when Air Jordan made a choice of his own to leave the game that he had dominated so convincingly, to start over in a foreign land where a wooden stick was king and failing 70 percent of the time meant that you were a success.
While many of his fans felt that their hometown hero’s decision to abandon them while still in his prime could have been considered treasonous, and the media had a field day at his expense, this was the right move that needed to happen for His Airness.
Below are some of the issues that the great Michael Jordan faced in his quest to reach what insiders call “The Show” otherwise known as the Major Leagues.
7. Michael Jordan is Only Getting a Shot Because His Boss is Looking for Publicity, and Not Because He Has the Ability to Play Ball in the Majors
There was a good amount of criticism aimed not only at Jordan, but also at Jerry Reinsdorf, who besides being the owner of the Chicago Bulls, was coincidentally also the principle owner of the team giving #23 his shot at the big leagues, the Chicago White Sox. It is not unlikely that Reinsdorf was looking for a way to push his baseball ticket sales, which were floundering under the weight of a mediocre team that had not won anything in over 75 years. The criticism of Reinsdorf has some validity to it for the sheer fact that he continued to pay Jordan’s basketball salary of $4 million while his minor league teammates earned an average of a few hundred dollars per month. In the end, Major League Baseball, just like any other professional sport, is more than a game, it is big business. Reinsdorf took advantage of Jordan’s baseball dreams for publicity and financial gain.
6. He is Taking Away a Spot from Another Deserving Major League Baseball Prospect
Baseball, like all sports, is competition first and foremost. While the argument could be made that Jordan was stealing a spot from another, more deserving minor league prospect, at the end of the day, he was only going to make the team if he could do three things at the major league level; hit the ball, field the ball, and run. While it may have been true that Jordan was questionably afforded a spot on the minor league club, potentially bumping a legit up and comer, the story needed to play out to its end and in this case, the man who will always be associated with legendary Chicago Bulls teams would not have what it takes to carry that over to a mediocre Chicago White Sox team.
5. He Still Has Too Much to Offer in the NBA and is Disgracing His Legacy by Attempting to Play in the Major Leagues
One of the biggest complaints of fans and pundits was that Jordan was leaving the game he loved while he was in his prime. However, the reality was that #23, was the man in charge of what Michael Jordan does. He had earned the right to play or not to play, and for all that he had done for both the Chicago Bulls and the NBA, people should have been more reserved in their criticism. The fans who were complaining that he was embarrassing himself and ruining his legacy, had an agenda that was more about selfishly being entertained than about concerns for him personally.
4. How Other Notable Two-Sport Athletes Have Fared
Jordan was not the first elite athlete to play two sports. Deion Sanders maintained a productive 9 year baseball career while holding down his day job as one of the best cornerbacks in the history of the NFL. Neon Deion, as he preferred to call himself, was first and foremost a football player. He enjoyed an NFL career that included 8 Pro Bowl appearances, 2 Super Bowl championships, and a spot in the Hall of Fame. While his accomplishments between the goal posts were stellar to say the least, Sanders was also a very competent man on the baseball diamond. While Michael Jordan only lasted one year and never progressed past AA ball, Deion Sanders was a consistent, above average center fielder who, also unlike Jordan, played both sports at the same time. According to Baseball Reference, Deion finished his MLB career with a .263 batting average and 186 stolen bases, 57 of them in 1997 alone. He is also the only athlete in the history of American sports to score a touchdown and hit a home run in the same week. It is safe to say that if Deion Sanders only played baseball, without the physical punishment he endured in the NFL, his numbers may have also been hall of fame worthy.
Bo Jackson was not only another two sport player, he was a prodigious athlete who accomplished feats between the goal posts and on the baseball diamond that resembled more of a possessed superhuman rather than a guy playing baseball and football. Bo ended his 8 year career in the majors with a .250 batting average and 141 home runs, respectable to be sure. However, this outfielder was more known and respected for his defensive prowess. While many a normal human being has an arm attached to their torso, Bo had a cannon. Hitters felt it not a wise decision to try to squeeze a single into a double, or score from second when Mr. Jackson patrolled the outfield. In addition, he was one of the most exciting running backs in the history of the NFL, often leaping over prospective tacklers or simply running right through them. While Bo’s promising NFL career was cut short due to injury, he had the potential to be one of the greatest of all time. Bo definitely knows.
Would Jordan have had more success if he had taken the same road as Deion Sanders and Bo Jackson and played two sports from the beginning; we will never know.
3. Jordan’s Sacrifices
Michael Jordan had to start all over in a sport where he was neither known nor respected. He went from being the chairman of Berkshire Hathaway to being the novice day trader hoping not to lose his shirt. The man with the most recognizable tongue wag, the legendary jersey number, and the highest selling basketball shoe in the history of basketball shoes was, in essence, an amateur, a rookie, a nobody. For Michael Jordan, this was an adjustment to be sure, but one that he was more than willing to make. He understood that he would get skewered by his fans and lambasted by the press. MJ saw that he was going to go from the man who ruled his kingdom with an iron fist and a nasty fade away jumper, to the pauper who was hunched just outside of the gate, begging for entry and a hot meal; with that said, he still did what he felt he needed to do.
2. Who Wouldn’t Take the Opportunity if Offered a Chance to Play in the Majors?
Although Michael Jordan‘s stint in baseball will not go down in history as triumphant, he had the opportunity to do what many of us only dream of, as he was able to lace up the cleats, slap some pine tar on the stick, and compete in a major league uniform, even if he did not reach the big league ball club. Jordan defended his decision towards the end of the 1994 baseball season by saying, “What I’ve done is give inspiration to people. Believe in what you believe in and make an attempt at it; don’t give up before you even try. … For all the criticism I’ve received for doing what I’m doing, it’s only an opportunity that I’ve taken advantage of. If you’re given an opportunity to take advantage of something you truly love and dream about, do it.”
1. Michael Jordan Left the Game He Loved in Order to Honor His Recently Murdered Father’s Wishes to Play in the Majors
During Michael Jordan’s childhood, he and his father, James Jordan, dreamed about one day seeing Michael play Major League Baseball. No one could have predicted the fairytale NBA career that was to come, and any thoughts of a profession in the majors quickly became an afterthought. On the early morning hours of July 23rd 1993, James Jordan had pulled over to the side of the road to sleep while driving home from a funeral. Two men approached with the intent of robbing the elder Jordan, but instead they shot and killed him, a reprehensible act that was devastating for Michael and the entire Jordan family. At this point, MJ had already proven his greatness to the world; was an All Star, had won three NBA Championship titles, was a Finals MVP, and was considered to be amongst the best in league history. He was also beginning to tire of the sport and so when one combined all of these factors, it should not have come as a big surprise that Michael would take a shot at a game that years earlier, he and his late father had dreamed would one day become his life.
Of course this story does have a happy ending. Michael Jeffrey Jordan returned to the National Basketball Association the following year, picking right back up where he left off with three more back to back titles from 1996-1998, and regained the love and respect of the fans and media alike.
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