Full disclosure: I grew up in the 1980s as a Knicks fan. Which means I had plenty of reasons to hate Michael Jordan. And I did.
As I became an adult, I realized my immature animus was totally justified. Aside from getting every call from the refs on his way to burying my team year after year, he did such wonderful things as:
- Punching a teammate for having the audacity to disagree with him.
- Shrugging when confronted with Nike’s use of sweatshops in Asia.
- Become bitter, petty and ungracious during what should have been a moment for him to bask in the glow of his unmatched career at his Hall of Fame induction speech.
So it didn’t surprise me much yesterday when I stumbled onto a video of the 1988 Kenny Rogers Classic charity game (yes, THAT same Kenny Rogers who died Friday) and saw Jordan —playing like that guy in every pick-up game who is way too competitive, with way too much to prove — dunking, doing reverse layups and swatting away shots against a bunch of celebrity scrubs and other NBA stars going at a more appropriate 20 percent speed. At one point, Dominique Wilkins, who is on Jordan’s opposing team, gives Jordan a small shove after the Bulls star slams in a put-back.
But the greatest, most satisfying moments of the whole video come on the following two plays. First, Rogers gets the ball near the left elbow and proceeds to pump fake a hard-closing Jordan — and all of his disproportionate, dickhead-ish aggression — right out of his sneakers, before calmly draining the 15-footer.
Four sequences later, Jordan goes head over ass to block a guy who looks like he’s about 5-4. As Jordan lays splayed triumphant along the baseline, Rogers calmly picks up the swatted shot and lays in the uncontested put-back.
It’s all just perfect. And pretty much makes up for every ounce of cheesy schmaltz I felt guilty about enjoying in every Rogers song.
Rest easy, Gambler. You were a hero to us all.