No Heir Jordan: The NBA Lockout and the End of an Era
by David Leonard | NewBlackMan
The NBA lockout is over. With the players and the owners having reached an agreement, basketball will return beginning Christmas Day. Ushering in substantial structural changes to the league, which will likely restrict player movement and constrain middle-class player salaries, the NBA lockout will also go down in history as an end to the search for the next Michael Jordan. Since MJ’s retirement, the league, its marketing partners, and fans alike have pinned for someone to fill his AIR Jordans. Each anointed as the next Michael Jordan, Penny Hardaway, Grant Hill, Vince Carter and Harold Miner (“Baby Jordan”) all failed to deliver because of injuries, limited production, or a combination of both. Each in their own right was imagined as a player who could fill the shoes, whose talents, charisma, and athleticism would propel the NBA during its post-Jordan era. None of them met these expectations resulting in an NBA in continued search for a twenty-first century basketball God.
Kobe Bryant and LeBron James each took the mantle of the next Jordan to places none of the other NMJ (next Michael Jordan) had reached. Kobe, because of his talents, the ways in which he patterned his game and demeanor after Jordan, his quest for rings, and most importantly his competitiveness, all elevated the comparisons, leading many to argue that he was the NMJ. Yet because of Eagle County, Colorado, because of his conflicts with Shaquille O’Neal and the ultimate demise of the Lakers Dynasty, and because he is said to have demanded to get out of Los Angeles, Kobe has fallen short in other’s quest to find the next Michael Jordan. Like Kobe, LeBron James has delivered on the court, dazzling fans with his passing skills, his athleticism, and his ability to make his teammates better. Worse than struggling to secure a title, LeBron James fall short in the MJ sweepstakes when he decided to take his talents to South Beach.
While possessing the skills, charisma, and baller potential, the two most promising players to lead the NBA, to build upon the global popularity established by Jordan, have fallen short not because of their basketball talents but their inability (or our inability) to fill mythical shoes. The quest to find the Next Michael Jordan, thus, has nothing to do with basketball but rather is part of an effort to find a player who reinforces popular narratives about the American Dream, the protestant work ethnic, and post-racialness.
Jordan, only seen in public in his basketball uniform or a $3,000-dollar suit, Jordan embodied the politics of racial respectability on and off the court. He “allow[ed] us to believe what we wish to believe: that in this country, have-nots can still become haves; that the American dream is still working” (Ken Naughton quoted in Andrews 2000, p. 175).
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