However, the impression Jordan made in his early years dominated the latter, title-wielding image, and for the next decade too many players entered the league wanting their chance to be like Mike in all the wrong ways. Exceptions, most notably Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett, were respected, but their street cred was no match for Allen Iverson, Stephon Marbury, Kobe Bryant and other high-scoring soloists. The pairing of Kobe with Shaquille O’Neal couldn’t get the Lakers to the finals until Jackson arrived to install a variation of his triangle offense. In addition, ESPN’s Sports Center and other televised outlets were making sports a more character-driven story.
You can’t have a whole team present for “Sunday conversation;” you need a star.
The current crop of superstars—LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Chris Paul and several others—grew up on Jordan Version 2.0, and it shows. Each has a solid team-oriented game (the most salient criticism of James seems to be that he’s too unselfish, a good flaw to have). Yao Ming, Dwyane Wade, Devin Harris, Tony Parker and Brandon Roy are all team leaders who are immensely talented.
It is a healthy change, and it’s one that is good for these times. In this economy, the notion of individual success that lifts all others seems so last administration. A more collective approach to success is in vogue right now, and perhaps a new looking NBA can be emblematic in these troubled times.
Martin Johnson is a regular contributor to The Root.