One does not have to be a sports fan to know that induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame is a tremendous honor. Whatever your field, there is nothing like being recognized as one of the best ever to do it. Recently, several legendary basketball players received this honor. Among them were David Robinson of the San Antonio Spurs, and Michael Jordan of the Chicago Bulls (full disclosure: I grew up in Los Angeles loving the Lakers and despising both the Bulls and the Spurs... and I’m still getting over it).
There was a stark difference between the two acceptance speeches. As I listened to the two speeches, all I could think of was the old commercial catchphrase, “Like Mike... If I could be like Mike.” Unfortunately, in this instance, Mike was the last person anyone should aspire to be like. This was definitely not a Michael Jordan highlight. Jordan’s Speech was self-centered, indulgent, arrogant, and at times embarrassing. In contrast, David Robinson rose to the occasion and made a brief, inspiring, encouraging speech (see his speech here) that made his family, his team, and his friends proud.
Let me say up front that I did not expect Michael Jordan, the known philanderer/adulterer (see here), to be a paragon of virtue. He is a basketball player (and Nike/Gatorade/Haynes pitchman), and has never portrayed himself as anything else. I did, however, expect some class from the man many believe to be the best to ever lace ‘em up. Instead, Jordan put on a disappointing display that looked even worse when compared to Robinson’s speech.
David Elevated Others... Mike Elevated Mike
David Robinson took the time to honor the all of the people who were there to support him. He acknowledged George Gervin as “the original Mr. San Antonio,” and a Spurs legend, Larry Brown as a “basketball genius,” Avery Johnson as the spiritual force behind the Spurs rise to prominence, and Tim Duncan as “the greatest Power Forward to play the game.” Here was a man who saw himself as the recipient of a great legacy, surrounded by great players and coaches, and grateful to have had personal success in the process.
On the other hand, the theme of M.J.’s speech was, “If you want to know where my legendary ‘fire’ comes from... here it is.” For example, M.J. thanked Pat Riley, but he did it in a backhanded way, recounting a story about a resort in Hawaii where the hotel put Pat Riley out of M.J.’s suite when he arrived. This was just one example of many where M.J. shone the light on himself by putting others down. He stepped on players, coaches, and the guy who took his spot in High School all in a self-serving fashion.
David Honored His Family... Mike Honored Himself
David Robinson took the time to speak words of encouragement and praise to each of his sons, honored his wife in an appropriate, heartwarming exchange, and paid homage to his parents who “planted a seed of faith” in him. He talked about the “Robinson family name” that he is obviously serious about passing on to and through his sons without portraying himself as a man worthy of adoration.
Jordan did mention Scotty Pippen, but only to say that Pippen was there “for every championship I won.” He mentioned the other recipients, but only to allude to the fact that he learned something about them, but can’t imagine what the audience doesn’t already know about him. He did make mention of his siblings and their contribution to his competitive nature, and Dean Smith’s legend as a coach. Unfortunately, that all-to-brief section of the speech paled in comparison to what followed.
Jordan eventually got around to mentioning his wife (who divorced him in 2006) in passing, and his children merited little more than that. Clearly, Jordan’s speech was little more than an opportunity to remind everyone how great he was, and to do so at the expense of others. Addressing the coach who picked the mythological Leroy Smith (who was present in the audience) over him in High School, he said, “You made a mistake, dude.“ On the issue of Dean Smith failing to name him as a starter his freshman year (so he could be on the cover of Sports Illustrated), M.J. declared, “I deserved to be on that Sports Illustrated [cover].” Later, in response to a Bulls exec (with whom he had a rather rocky relationship) who used the cliche, “Organizations win championships,” M.J. retorted, “I didn’t see ‘organization’ playing with the flu in Utah...” All I could think as I listened was, “Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your own lips.” (Proverbs 27:2 ESV)
David Was Brief... Mike Was Indulgent
M.J. spoke for well over twenty minutes; David Robinson was done in less than seven. Moreover, the brevity of David’s speech had less to do with the time than it did with it’s timeliness. Had Robinson spent twenty minutes doing what he did, it would have been fine. Everyone in the room would have been glad to listen to “The Admiral” heap praise on those who meant so much to him. However, he did not need more time in order to say thank you and honor those who made him who he is, and came to support him on his big day. Twenty-three minutes is not a long time to speak. However, when the speech is an arrogant, self-serving display, half that time would be too much.
David Honored God... Mike Honored Basketball
David Robinson ended his speech with a moving reference to the story of the ten lepers in Luke’s gospel. It was so refreshing not to hear the old standard, “First, I want to thank my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who made it all possible by making me so good” cliche. Instead, Robinson actually referred to the Bible (book and chapter), used it in context, applied it to the situation, and was completely appropriate, God-honoring, and not at all cheesy. Praise God!
David Robinson presented himself as a man who had a great career, but didn’t let it define who he is. Michael Jordan, on the other hand, presented himself as a man who loves, needs, and craves basketball and the attention it brings. He even alluded to the idea of coming back and “playing at fifty.” I doubt he was serious, but the point was clear. Jordan is defined by what he did on the court. He needed this moment to snatch his throne back from the likes of Kobe Bryant if only for one night. He needed the bright lights, and the attention again if only for twenty-three minutes. And in the end, it was quite sad. A man who has “everything”; the most recognizable figure on the planet at one time, looked as empty as the United Center (where the Bulls play) two hours after a disappointing loss.
David sees His Legacy in His Family... Mike sees His Legacy in His Highlights
David Robinson’s personal words to his three sons were about the most poignant, moving, inspiring words from a father I’ve heard in a long time. Here was a man receiving the highest honor in sports, and he turned it into a father/son moment that his boys will never forget. He spoke to each son, acknowledged their unique gifts, and his unique relationship with each of them.
M.J. also acknowledged his children, but the theme was the same... ‘It’s all about me.’ At one point, M.J., said to his kids, “You guys got a heavy burden... I wouldn’t want to be you guys if I had to.” (This was right before his absolutely classless remarks about the $1,000.00 ticket price for the event) While this may be a true sentiment (Jordan was referring to the unfair expectations on his children), the context was unfortunate. Instead of a loving father sympathizing with the plight of his children, M.J. came across as an arrogant superstar admiring the magnitude of his own shadow and using his kids as no more than a punch-line.
Modern American sports serve as an incubator for the self-centeredness that resides in each of us. The better one performs, the harder it is to avoid “the big-head.” I cannot imagine how difficult it would be do handle Michael Jordan’s level of success. What else could he be? Where would he acquire humility, class, and selflessness? Ironically, many argue that these are the very character traits team sports build in young people. Nothing could be further from the truth. Nevertheless, these traits were definitely present in David Robinson. But where did they come from? Did the Spurs do a better job at fostering this character than the Bulls? I doubt it. Did the Naval Academy do a better job at fostering it than the University of North Carolina? Perhaps. However, I believe the key is in the speech. The “seed of faith” planted by his mom and dad; the ‘preaching’ by teammates like Avery Johnson, and the Christ to whom Robinson referred in his closing remarks all came together to shape the man who made that speech.
David Robinson is far from perfect. I’m sure he has as many flaws, foibles and faults as the rest of us. However, for seven minutes, he represented his team, his family, and his Lord very well. And he showed us all how attractive humility and grace can be.
Pray for David as he strives to walk with God. Also, pray for M.J. as he seeks to fill a massive void in the center of his life that basketball, money, fame, championships, and women can never satisfy. Pray that Christ saves him and turns his gaze to something loftier than his own highlights. Not because Jesus needs Jordan’s voice, but because M.J. needs Jesus (just like the rest of us).