The Greatest & The Chosen One.
It’s after midnight. In the back-yard a young boy is dribbling a basketball, spinning left, pivoting right like it’s the championships final game and second. He fades away as his father watches from the window with pride, not yet ready to tell him it’s time to come in. The ball sinks through the chain-link net with a familiar metallic swish. The ball goes through the hoop again, and again and again. Until it goes through the hoop for an NCAA Championship game before the nylon nets are cut down by a victorious North Carolina alumni. The ball goes through the hoop again, and again and again as the North Carolina jersey comes off and one embroided 23 and embodying Michael Jordan comes on.
The back-yard dreams become front page news as Michael Jordan made his father and the city of Chicago proud as the NBA and the whole world watch a Basketball and entertainment revolution, redeeming the sport and the phrase ‘excitement’. Complete in a shaved dome (“baldy?!”), gold necklace and Nike trainers. The air of excitement was pumped back up like ‘Back To The Future’ trainers, the present legend and legacy. Flying more than hover boards his airness, switched hands and dominated lay-up lines (see, the Lakers) and Slam-Dunk contests (whether against Dominique in February, or the rest of the league on a nightly basis).
From shrugs to last shots. The flu to the number 45 and Madison Square Garden to the NBA Finals Michael Jordan played through it all on the biggest stage of world basketball and focus of a million camera lenses flashing. Picture anyone having this kind of impact. All the opponents defeated. All the teammates carried. All the young kids inspired to pick up a ball that will always mean more than the old men now able to pick up any cheque because Michael made them rich. He even showed baseball and his smiling down father he could proudly play. Before showing a gang of space aliens the door with Bugs Bunny. Warner Brothers certified with Walt Disney dreams come true. This fantastic man even came back and cast some spells as an old Wizard in Washington. He did that for free too and for you, and those devastated by September 11th, donating his entire salary to the 9/11 relief fund. Yes, it’s not just the rings, gold medals, MVP’s, titles and endorsements that tell you he’s the greatest.
It’s after midnight. Somewhere in Italy a young boy is dribbling a basketball, spinning left, pivoting right like it’s Michael Jordan’s championships final game and second. He fades away as his father comes home from playing a professional game in the Euro-league and watches with admiration. The ball sinks through the chain-link net with a real familiar metallic swish. The ball goes through the hoop again, and again and again. Until it goes through the hoop and across the world again and again up in Lower Merion. The ball goes through the hoop again, and again and again before skipping college for a Los Angeles Laker jersey embroided 8 (and some years later one more for 24) and embodying the next, great one Kobe Bryant.
The Italian work became the American dreams as Kobe Bryant made and continues to make his father and the city of L.A. proud as the NBA and the whole world watch a Basketball and entertainment redux, giving new, post-Jordan life to the sport and the phrase ‘greatness’. Young Kob’ came back home, grew an ‘fro and dominated the game. Save for a few missed postseason years where airballs where thrown up to go with contest worthy and winning dunks. Still, soon after, armed with a new uniform, coach (Phil Jackson), big partner (Shaq) and a Hollywood supporting cast led by Big Shot ‘Bob Horry, Kobe made his game ‘Big James’ as the city of Los Angeles dominated the NBA with its Laker team to the tune of three-Jordan like, back to back, to back championships.
The scoring titles and MVP’s came later as Kobe strived and survived it all, from court to court, even the death of a dynasty, the departure of Shaq (as his Miami Heat cooled off California) and his coach (twice…and almost three times). From the number 81 to Madison Square Garden, just ‘Like Mike’, Kobe made the world of basketball his Mecca with big numbers worthy of Hollywood’s biggest picture. That’s why Jack Nicholson and everyone was watching as Kobe won championships without the Notorious B.I.G. and made the Los Angeles Lakers his own before remaking himself as the ultimate team player who now has more big help with Dwight Howard. Pau Gasol and Steve Nash. A guy who refuses to let critical doubt, father time, or any injury (see the menace of his Phantom face-mask), or Miami Heat player deny him and his Los Angeles Laker gold shining at the beginning of Summer once again like California. The venom hasn’t been drained from the Mamba yet. That’s why he’s the chosen one.
Just look at this classic picture. Beautiful like the game isn’t it? It says it all. We all know whose the student and whose the master. The God of basketball, offering psalms of wisdom to his young disciple. This isn’t just another comparison, head to head piece. Look at the picture. Two very different players and men with the same impact. Still, we all know who the greatest of all-time is and we all know whose the closest to the greatest. The one chosen to take 23’s career to 24 and show Spike, Scoop, the fans, players and the world of basketball once more that there was still hope once the best ever retired for the third and last time. Can you believe in less than three years the chosen one will hang up his Nike sneakers too. It’s been a long time since that number 8 Afro. Still, before Kobe Bryant finally relinquishes the torch to LeBron James that Michael Jordan handed down to him we will get to see just for a few more golden years just how much two men gave flight and helped this sport soar. Next to each other 23 and 24 forever more. Now that’s Basketball.