MJ: Hypocrite and hero

Posted: Jan 15, 2002 12:00 AM
Following his second retirement from basketball in 1999, basketball icon Michael Jordan professed his intention to spend more time with his wife and three children. "I will live vicariously through my kids," said Jordan at the time. The reality: Rarely was Jordan seen with his family. Golf, business and no small amount of womanizing all came first. The family fell by the wayside. So, it came as no surprise amongst the press when Jordan's wife, Juanita, recently filed for divorce, citing "irreconcilable differences." Of course, we'll never know what really happened behind closed doors. There has been some speculation that Juanita may have also entertained suitors. What sources do seem clear about is that when Jordan pondered returning to the NBA as an executive, Juanita laid down an ultimatum: leave Chicago and we're through. Perhaps that's why Jordan operated out of Chicago during his first year as a front office man with the Washington Wizards. With his decision to unretire and return to the NBA as a player for the 2001-02 season, a move from Chicago became inevitable. Soon thereafter, his 13-year marriage went bust, with Juanita now seeking custody of their three children and half of his possessions. Jordan has politely remarked that "things will work out in the long run." Juanita is not nearly so optimistic. Reconciliation "would be impractical and not in the best interests of the family," she snarled in her court papers. In an era in which media outlets increasingly succeed by shocking people into paying attention, there has been astonishingly little coverage of Jordan's divorce. Guess Willy Loman had it right after all - In a country, where fame is readily manufactured, it pays to be well liked. Plainly, advertisers aren't going to knock Mike so long as there is a chance of him hawking their products. The NBA/TV execs are all too happy to hop aboard the handy wave of his return. Reporters who hope to ever sniff the same locker room as MJ aren't going to start wagging their fingers at him. Television and radio commentators have adopted sanctimonious tones about refusing to pry into his personal life (as opposed to the gluttonous delight they enjoyed while feasting on, say, Shawn Kemp's proclivity for making babies or Anthony Mason's proclivity for bar fights or Mark Chumara proclivity for patting his baby sitter.). You see, none of these guys are genuine myths, so we don't feel guilty for enjoying their misfortune. MJ, on the other hand, is a national hero. Greedily we hold to our little one-dimensional images of MJ. We fondly recall him moving easily around the court, or hurling his body through the air in sheer defiance of the law of gravity, or unspooling an unblockable fade away. This is what fans do - they possess memories. And our memories of MJ bring us joy. So as long as we can vent our stupid and brutish instincts by watching Jerry Springer, no one is really going to talk about how MJ is a womanizer, or a hypocrite, or an absentee parent. Does news of a few savage indiscretions somehow diminish the five-time league MVP and 10-time scoring champion's legacy? Of course not. Muhammad Ali was an astonishingly prolific womanizer, yet the public continues to worship at his altar. After all, this is America. No matter what else may happen - war, pestilence or economic collapse - we'll continue to manufacture the most enjoyable snack bars and the most popular cultural icons. If our brief, 226-year history has taught us anything, it's that being a hero in this country has less to do with character than with marketability.