Michael Jordan is an American icon in a multitude of ways, but above all he speaks as a cultural icon with his amazing, all-around, graceful, improvisational and lightning quick skills on the basketball court. This is the immediate side of Jordan -- the Chicago Bulls guard who can switch hands from a power-dunk to a graceful lay-up in mid-air, slide by a defender with one of the quickest first steps in the game or lay down an aerobatic Jordan dunk. He has also come through at key times, such as when he was able to pull up to take what is known as "The Shot," an 18-foot double-clutch jumpshot with three seconds to play to win an NBA playoff game versus the Cleveland Cavaliers on May 7, 1989. ("To the Top": 34) Michael Jordan stands for the all-around game of the playground -- he has dominated the league's scoring title consistently since he was a rookie, been named to the NBA's "All Defensive Team," made the NBA All Star Game's "Slam Dunk Contest" famous when he won it with his famous dunk as a rookie in 1984 and even become one of the best trash talkers in the league -- Jordan often seduces opponents by engaging them in conversation and taunting them with lines like "A little late on that one, weren't you?" and "Is that all you got?" ("Guarding Jordan": 67)
Jordan has taken the game of the streets to the NBA. He is not a one-dimensional player like the strictly-rebounding game of Chicago Bulls forward Dennis Rodman or the shot-blocking game of New Jersey Nets center Shawn Bradley. Or even the all-scoring game of Los Angeles Laker center Shaquille O'Neill. Jordan is the complete package. Jordan takes the fluidity of the street game to the NBA courts with his skill and he has become described as a basketball icon in many terms including "the Muhammed Ali of the sport, the prince of basketball" (McCallum: 37), "Elvis in high-tops" and "the new DiMaggio" (Boers: 30). He has even been compared religiously as being "basketball's high priest" (Bradley: 60) or even "more popular than Jesus ... but with better endorsement deals." (Vancil: 51) It is Jordan's basketball skill above all that characterizes him as not only a black hero, taking the street game to the NBA, but as a truly American hero. It is his style that has captivated American audiences and audiences around the world for more than a decade. His game is not the distinctive jumpshot/layup game of the early white basketball players or even modern white players like Larry Bird in the 1980's. Jordan has taken his game far beyond the original white American game of basketball. Jordan's game has effectively re-invented basketball with his own black cultural style.
Jordan's style reflects the jazz nature of black culture as his motions reflect the "will to spontaneity" and "unpredictable eruptions of basketball creativity" that can be compared to jazz improvisation and the soulful sound of the blues. (Dyson: 69-70) His motions are truly musical in nature and that helps him to speak to a wide variety of audiences, black and white of all nationalities. Michael Eric Dyson declared that Jordan's basketball style was a "stlyization of the performed self" that could be compared to the "complexly layered jazz experimentation of John Coltrane . . . and the rhetorical ripostes and oral significations of rapper Kool Moe Dee." These traits demonstrate and communicate the "identifying mark of diverse African-American creative enterprises..." (Dyson: 69) When Jordan seems to soar toward the basket for a patented slam-dunk, he demonstrates tremendous body language and self-awareness that communicate his dynamic image -- his arm creating a huge arc with the ball, his legs spread in a graceful "V" and his tongue hanging out with a trademark enthusiasm. He is truly a "flying acrobat" whose self-created moves such as the cradle jam, rock-a-baby, kiss-the-rim dunk and lean-in dunk help to use his physical attributes and skills to speak of his black culture and body awareness.
Jordan's style, however, is not purely physical and spontaneous -- it is obviously intelligent, indicative of "a black man of extraordinary genius on the court." (Dyson: 70) He does not exude simple brute skill like a football lineman or even like the brute-work of his fellow teammate, Rodman -- he presents a complex image, a smart basketball package. Like jazz, Jordan is a radically different creation, a combination of styles, highs and lows, tones and pitches and layers of skill. Jordan's version of basketball emphasizes black culture with his body language and improvisational style and simply the reflection of what has become the dominant inner-city black game of basketball, but it also speaks to the whole American audience. As a basketball player, Michael Jordan transcends racial barriers while at the same time exuding his culture in his style of play.
He is the player all the young inner city kids want to be, to follow his Gatorade slogan and "Be Like Mike." A new generation of young players are rising up in the NBA that grew up watching Jordan and aspired to become like him -- Toronto Raptors 18-year-old rookie Tracy McGrady is one of these players and when he got a chance to play against the Bulls and actually guard Jordan, he showed the reverence of the young fans that have followed Jordan as a basketball icon above all -- "I'm just going to learn from God tonight," McGrady said in a December 15, 1997 Washington Post article. "If I do get schooled, I won't be the first." (Merida: B1) Jordan's basketball skills have inspired an entire generation of followers and though he has sometimes been criticized in this regard for inspiring false hope in young black children (Price: 42), he has still become a symbol of the American Dream. But some educators say they wish children would see more in Jordan than they do. "I think they see a great basketball player," University of Virginia Luther P. Jackson Multicultural Center Director Ishmail Conway said. "I wish they would also see him more as a business man," a symbol of a black man creating something for himself. (Conway: 12/2/97)
Michael Jordan has captured the hearts and minds of black and white America as a basketball player who symbolizes the American Dream and has become a true American icon. With his distinctive style of play, he has dominated the NBA since his rookie year and been deemed the greatest basketball player of all time by publications and broadcasts from Sports Illustrated to ESPN SportsCenter. He has truly become the new American hero, the black American hero that the nation has needed to unify its divided population.
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