Wednesday, May 24, 2006

My Wrist and Michael Jordan

There's only one thing that I hate about weightlifting, and that is getting injured and being out of the game for a while. My wrist is still killing me, yet I'm going insane with a kind of stir-craziness that I can't explain. I want to lift so badly, but every time I get under the bar, or even down to do pushups, it feels like the fucking thing is a twig trying to support the rest of the tree- and it's cracking. Even now, though, there is some kind of drive that I have where I have to find a way to fix myself so I can keep lifting, even though at the moment I'm competing with nothing more than my own pride.

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Copyright Phill Stevens

I hear people all the time asking why someone would risk their career to come back early from an injury, such as Terrell Owens rushing back from a broken leg to be in the Super Bowl, or Willis Reed giving that spark to the Knicks in the 1970 NBA Finals.

"Why would you risk everything, your whole future, just for that one game?"

Sometimes, that one game is all that life is going to give you. If you don't make it there, you might not get another chance. I think that most people can at least understand this, and that's what drives them to try as hard as they can to get back. Yet, the people I'm talking about are different.

When I was a little kid, I was a huge fan of the NBA. My favorite team was the Orlando Magic, and I was a faithful follower of the blue and black, a Shaquille O'Neal worshipper, and a Penny Hardaway wannabe in gym class. I thought Nick Anderson was great, even though he missed all those foul shots at the end of end of Game 1 in the '95 Finals, and I still thought Scott Skiles sucked.

The Bulls were the team that everyone loved to hate back then, and as they rolled up championship after championship every year, I began to join the ranks of the Bulls haters. You couldn't hate Jordan; the guy was a legend. But you could certainly hate the rest of them, (including Scottie Pippen, which is still the gayest name in sport's history) in the same way you'd hate the Yankees- too dominant for too long, and they had more rings than they did fingers to carry them on. I got sick not only of the team, but of their taunting fans, praising the Bulls while wearing their stupid "33" jerseys, acting like tough guys at lunch on the basketball court as if they actually had something to do with this team winning championships.

There is one thing, though, that I'll always remember- no matter how much you hated them, Jordan was untouchable. You couldn't despise someone like Jordan; a figurative giant in a land full of men, always head and shoulders and sometimes knees above the rest of guys he played with. When he retired to play baseball in '93,I was thankful. The Bulls reign of darkness was finally over.

Unfortunately, it was short lived, as the bastard came out of retirement in '94. Fucker. Everyone knows what followed after that: 55 points in his fifth game back (against the Knicks no less), the 70 win season, the championship the next year..

However, it was something different that put him into my pantheon of "Tough Bastards I Admire". In Game 5 of the '97 NBA Finals, he showed me why he was the man, and it's something that I will never forget...when I'm old and drunk and babbling, I will remember Jordan's performance. Some guys will blame 'the breaks' when they fail- "That's the just the breaks man". Well, fuck that. Jordan made his own breaks, and he didn't give a shit whether you were with him or not. What made this night special, though, was the fact that this guy was decimated by the flu, and felt like he was going to die during the entire game.

"I almost played myself into passing out," Jordan said. "I came in and I was almost dehydrated and it was all just to win a basketball game. I couldn't breathe. My energy level was really low. My mouth was really dry. They started giving me Gatorade and I thought about IV."

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Now don't get me wrong- I don't remember the particulars. The only thing that I truly remember thinking was that there was no way in hell that this guy had the flu, and that the papers must have been lying just to give the hapless Jazz a hope. The guy scored 38 points while he was on death's doorstep, and that image I'll always remember is of Jordan throwing his arms in celebration after hitting that last three pointer that broke the tie with 25 seconds left; it was almost as if he himself couldn't believe that he was pulling this whole thing off.

The Bulls won the championship that night, on the back of a man with the flu who thought he might drop at any time.

There are other examples that I could come up with, of course; Curt Schilling's balls to the wall performance in the ALCS for the Red Sox in 2004 (one of my favorites, of course), or Emmit Smith playing with two dislocated shoulders, or Arturo Gatti winning a bout after breaking his hand early on, just fighting through the pain. And yet, this moment with Jordan really sticks out for me, possibly because I hated his team so much, and yet even I had to respect the effort. I knew in those moments that I was watching history, and that one day I would write about the day that Jordan risked everything to play in that game, and took his team on his shoulders, and won. When game time came, and everything depended on him, he made his breaks, and did his thing. If he hadn't risen to the occasion...well, ask Bill Buckner how that feels.

Either way, it kind of makes my wrist hurt just a little bit less.

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