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Wednesday, September 26, 2001
For Generation Z,
it's a game of Catch 23


By Ralph Wiley
Page 2 columnist

Editor's Note: This article is by Big Sleep, a mythical 23-year-old NBA player, offering his opinion on the Michael Jordan matter to R-Dub.

Myself, personally, I don't want to make a poster out of Michael Jordan. I love Money. Made myself in his image. Just call me Sleep. Big Sleep. Seven-foot tall, nine-foot wingspan, handle like a point, Windex on the glass, can defend all five, 3-point range. Star in the League. Don't believe it? Something's blurring your vision, man. Must be misty water-color memories, or them crocodile tears you've shed, for Mike's sake.

Michael Jordan
Michael Jordan taught the kids to show no mercy ... so don't expect them to.
Well, get ready to shed some more.

I feel real bad right now. Don't mean I won't bust MJ. Gonna cross him up, post him up, dunk 'n' dangle over the top of him. He won't like it. I guarantee you that. I won't like it either. I also guarantee you that.

But I'm gonna do it. And I ain't the only one. Kobe will bust him. Alley I. will cross him up. T-Mac, over the top. Vinsanity, posting him low. Baron. KG. Shareef. What I'm not gonna like is when Stack, Finley or Houston use him. When Bonzi Wells and Rashard Lewis light him up. That's what gonna bug me.

Think he can run at 3? Maybe. But he can't hide at 3.

Since there's zone allowed now, you think Mike can get a blow, coast, won't have to guard nobody? He's coming back to play 3, small forward, because it's too tough at 2. Who's he gonna guard at 2? Kobe? T-Mac? Please. He's gonna run after Alley I. through all them picks? Nope. You know Alley I's gonna cross up him real bad. Be a whole SportsCenter highlight package of Mike getting crossed up. Or chasing Kobe and getting blown. We all know what he's gonna do when he gets posted by Kobe. He's gonna try to slap it away with them giant meathooks. Just avoid the YMCA slap, go straight up on him. All crossed up, broke down, lifted over -- I don't want to be the one, aight? I don't. But now they saying he's gonna play 3, because 2 is too hard; Ray Allen, Mike Finley, Stackhouse. I don't know, that's between him and them.

All I am, all I got, good and bad, I owe to Michael. I love Mike. We all do. Love him more than you say you do. Way more than Phil Knight and all them. Way more than NBC, TNT and TBS. Way more than Ray-o-vac, EA Sports, Gatorade, or Sara Lee. (Ballpark franks might plump when you cook 'em, but Mike, he really wouldn't know. I ate with him before. At his restaurant. In Chicago. Mike likes lobster.)

Allen Iverson and Kobe Bryant
You think the 38-year-old MJ will be able to stay with either of these guys?
I don't resent Mike. I resent people saying the League wasn't no good without him. That's what I resent. Dislike Mike? Mike raised me. I didn't have a dad. Not that I knew of. Not so it would matter. All these people telling me what I'm supposed to be like, how I'm supposed to sound, what's supposed to matter to me as a human being -- they're all too late. Where were you when I was 12 and needed it? But Mike was always there. So I'm like Mike, as in I see Mike. Not your version of Mike. My vision of Mike.

Mike ain't ever once told me to stop listening to loud rap music or get my head out of PlayStation 2. Mike never told me who I was supposed to be. Mike showed me. Mike ain't like Oak, Barkley, Mailman, bitter old dudes mad because another generation dared to be born and come up behind them. Mike wasn't never like that -- not to me, anyway. Mike just said, "Sleep, if I do come back, I'm gonna bust you. Yee-ah." He looked at me with them burning copper eyes and I swallowed hard, yeah I did, just like you do when your Daddy tells you that you are down wrong, and then tells you to go stand in the middle of the street while he starts the car. I don't care how old he gets, Daddy can do that to you. But if your Dad takes you out in the driveway and says, "Let's play 21. My ball," you smile, because you're 22 and he's, like, 50 or something.

So how can Mike make the League better by coming back? He already made the League better. Have you seen Kobe Bryant? Is it better to make me or Kobe or T-Mac finish him, destroy him? Mike wasn't supposed to go out like that. Mike wasn't like everybody else. He was bigger than life, stonger than dirt. None of us can see him being just like everybody else, just another baller. It's gonna hurt to see Michael Jordan, the best to ever walk out there, struggling to stay up on Jalen Rose or somebody.

Ain't gonna be the same. It's gonna be a letdown. Not for me. For him. Because I'm gonna dominate him every chance I get. I ain't faking. Because that's what he'd do to me if he could. He'd be merciless. He'd give no quarter. He would unleash hell. Oh, he'd humor me, but when it came down to it, he'd assassinate me like "The Professional," then eat the lunch I left behind. He's a cold-blooded killer. And he's our hero.

Kevin Garnett
It's time for Kevin Garnett to get some serious time on the playoff stage.
What do you expect me to do to him on the court? Defer? Yeah, he'll try to work my head so I'll do that for him. He'll try the Jedi Jordan Mind Trick. And it'll work, on the lower frequencies, in the lower percentile of the League. It'll definitely work in Wizards' practice. If I do defer to him, he might win. I might get over it, but deep down he wouldn't respect me anymore. And that I could not stand. That I could not take.

So you tell me. What should I do out there? Have a celebrity roast? Gonna be a celebrity roast, all right. I love him. But I'm gonna cross him up cold. Got no choice. It's funny. The only way I can get you to notice and respect me is by killing my spiritual father. And he's making me do it. He's begging me. All because he has "love of the game." I know he loves the game. I love the game, too. That's what you don't know. You think you know me just because you can quote my stat line from last year? Think that's all the story of me? That ain't even all the story of my stats. But you assume you know me by saying, "Yes, but you're no Michael Jordan." OK, but then, if you take that away from me, if you take away the only bit of positive identity I have, then tell me: Who I am?

I'll tell you who I am. The Kid Who Posterized Michael Jordan. If I don't do it, some halfway fraud trying to make him a rep will. That I cannot tolerate. Let it be Kobe. Let it be T-Mac. Let it be KG. Let it be me.

He'll still have the great hands, them ungodly big meathooks, and the eyes. Like a demon's eyes, like God's eyes, like my Dad's eyes would've been, probably; Mike'll be able to point with his index finger, give great directions, call refs blind, glare, bond with Dougie Collins, get the middle 50 percentile players to back off, let him have his way. If he's hitting his j, he's good. He'll get his 20. Dog, Mike could be 50 and he could get his 20. Used to be, he could get his 50. Might get 60, if you weren't careful. And that's including the playoffs, when baskets are at a premium. He could go get 60 at any time. Not no mo.

Mike, at 6-6, used to be big for a 2. Kobe and T-Mac are 6-8, as flexible as Mike was once. Kobe is the best in ball most nights; the nights he ain't, it's Shaq, KG, T-Mac, Alley I. You see Kobe get 48 and 16 against Sacto, 45 and 10 against the Spurs in the playoffs? Mike still might be able to do that. I'm not gonna be the one who says Mike can't do that. But if he does, he won't be able to get out of bed for Game 2.

  So how you gonna feel about Jordan, looking like his feet are tacked to the floor as he gets 35 dropped on his dome by Dirk Nowitzki? You gonna get off on seeing that? I won't. I know Mike won't.  
   

Mike don't have no kinda backup in Washington, like he had Scottie in Chi. Kobe got Shaq. Which is the best thing to have. Vince got Antonio Davis. T-Mac got Grant Hill. Ray Allen at least got Big Dog. Finley got an international cast of 7-footers hanging out with him. Alley I. got Mount Mutombo. KG got ... well, KG ain't got nobody in Minny. Better not put me on the same squad as KG, where one of us is freed up to play 3. We would give the Lakes a run then. Baron got Monster Mash, far as he goes. Least Baron, he got something.

Mike got doo-doo. Nothing against Courtney, Rip, Jahidi, Laettner . But I don't see no Scottie Pippen in there. Maybe Kwame Brown, in time. But by that time, Mike will be long gone.

Mike is great. MJ could wake up out of a coma at 70, go out in the parking lot of the hospital at midnight, and be great one-on-one. Take you. But ain't nobody that great in the League; gotta have another dude.

So how you gonna feel about Jordan, looking like his feet are tacked to the floor as he gets 35 dropped on his dome by Dirk Nowitzki? You gonna get off on seeing that? I won't. I know Mike won't. Never thought Mike would be coming back ... or if he did, it would be seen like the U.S. Calvary was coming back to save the League from Osama bin Laden. So we're the bad guys? Why? Why were we elected? Because we're not Him? But we are. We're Mike's babies. We grew up. He got old. I ain't saying you got to like it. Hey man, I don't know if I like it, but that's the way the game go, how it works, what happens. It's life. He's teaching me about it still. If getting old can happen to him, then it's damn sure gonna happen to me.

Here's the thing. What was so wrong with what we did? I don't know. People talk about how bad (as in not so good) the League was without him, as bad as it's been, they all say, talking about numbers going down.

Michael Jordan
These kids grew up watching Michael dunk on people. You can bet they won't pass up the opportunity to return the favor.
Does that make a thing good or bad, because of how many people decide to watch it? Even though we were made in his image, we're garbage? How's that? We got no game? How's that? What planet you from?

Mike had the maddest, tightest game ever, game so tight he leveraged his way into an equity position of being an owner -- and then he gave that up, just to come back, and what, plays 150 or so games against me and the fellas? Because, why, we ain't good enough to keep the League going? So we dropped the baton? We made it hard as we could for Shaq and Kobe. Mike thinks he can do better? Coming back for love of the game? He won't love getting faced by Kobe, or having one of Shaq's 'bows bouncing of his jawbone. He won't love facing Shareef and Pierce and Spree on back-to-back-to-back winter nights. He taught us.

What I'm s'posed to do? If I do what I have to do, I'm even more of a villain. They say Michael Jordan needed to come back to help the League, because we're not holding up our end. So if we kill him, then we're still the bad guys, for making him look bad. It's like whaddayacallit ... Catch-22. Catch-23, really.

Mike had certain dudes coming in to Chicago to work out with him, play some pickup, some fullcourt run, to see what he could still do. He was careful about who he invited. He didn't invite Kobe. I know that. He didn't invite Alley I. He didn't invite T-Mac. He didn't invite KG. And he didn't invite the Sleep. He knew who to invite. He knew who he could use the Jedi Jordan Mind Trick on. He knew who he already owned.

Can't use the Jordan Mind Trick on Kobe, Shareef, Big Sleep. Our whole lives we've been thinking of taking the baton from Jordan. Now he wants it back? He's gonna play 3. He's gonna blow up my spot?

What I'm s'posed to do here? I'm s'posed to pull up, get off Mike? I don't want to posterize Money. But I'm gonna do what I have to do. Follow the golden rule. I'm gonna do unto Mike what he's done unto everybody. Gonna get the guy with the gold. If you don't like it, don't watch. Yeah I know. You will.

You can call it drama and great theater if you want. I guess it is. I guess that's the natural fact.

I call it sad. Not for me. For Mike. Guess that's the simple truth. OK then. It's on.

Ralph Wiley spent nine years at Sports Illustrated and wrote 28 cover stories on celebrity athletes. He is the author of several books, including "Best Seat in the House," with Spike Lee, "Born to Play: The Eric Davis Story," and "Serenity, A Boxing Memoir."