There are few ironies as clear and demonstrative as the fact that Michael Jordan—a man who from 1985 to maybe 2005 was perhaps the coolest man on the planet (and is still able to sell millions of shoes from the residue of that status)—has somehow emerged as a proxy for what is decidedly uncool. Of course, I’m referring to the “Jordan Crying Face,” the too-ubiquitous meme where a person who has experienced some sort of misfortune has his or her face replaced with a still image of Michael Jordan crying during his Hall of Fame acceptance speech.
But even before the Jordan cry face, Michael Jordan’s sartorial decisions were also a popular source of humor, famously cataloged by the What the F*** Is Michael Jordan Wearing? Tumblr. In this, you’ll find numerous examples of Jordan with ill-fitting shirts, unfathomably baggy jeans, strange hats, and suits that would make even Steve Harvey say, “Yeah … that’s too many buttons for me.”
Thing is, although Jordan is hilariously unfashionable today in 2016, this is how fashionable men dressed in the early and mid-’90s. Which happened to be at the height of Jordan’s popularity. Which makes me think he’s just stuck in a perpetual time loop. He was so popular then that he just decided, “Hey, I’ll just stay in 1996 … forever.”
Unfortunately, Michael Jordan isn’t the only person who made that decision. There exists a sizable (and loud) segment of sports fans who are unable or unwilling to enjoy today’s NBA because they spend so much time stuck in the ’80s and ’90s. “The game sucks today,” they’ll say. Or maybe, “The players don’t try hard anymore.” Or maybe they’ll contradict themselves in the same breath by saying, “The players aren’t fundamentally sound,” and then, “I hate how soft it is today with all this great shooting and fancy ballhandling.”
And when this argument starts, facts don’t matter.
It doesn’t matter that, while blatant hand checking is no longer legal, defenses are actually better and more sophisticated now because teams are allowed to be creative with zones. Which makes it harder to score. Which means that certain adored stars from the ’90s (Anthony Mason of the New York Knicks, for instance) would have trouble just staying on the court today because no one would guard him and he’d ruin his team’s spacing.
It doesn’t matter that decades of advances in training, medicine, rehab, coaching, drilling, scouting, weightlifting, diet and video would naturally suggest that today’s athlete is more fine-tuned and efficient and likely to reach his athletic potential than athletes in the past, and that this increase should continue.
And don’t even suggest to one of these people that, perhaps, their perspective of the past and the memories/feelings crafted from that perspective are skewed because consuming something with 15-year-old eyes in 1995 is much different from consuming something with 35-year-old eyes in 2015. Nope, everyone was better in 1993 and that’s that!
It might seem like I’m annoyed with the people who feel this way. And I am to some degree. But more than that, I feel pity. I feel bad that they’re so stuck in the past that they can’t enjoy what’s happening today. That they can’t just watch the NBA Finals tonight and appreciate Steph’s shot and Klay’s stamina and Kyrie’s handle and LeBron’s everything. That every layup made makes them scream, “THAT WOULDN’T HAVE HAPPENED IN 1988 IF CHARLES OAKLEY WAS OUT THERE!!!” That every foul called makes them act as if ’90s basketball was played on Mars and with machetes and hatchets. That every success LeBron has is “tainted” in their eyes by him forming a superteam, which conveniently ignores that, like, everyone from those Celtics, Lakers and Bulls teams from the ’80s and ’90s is in the Hall of Fame today.
I also understand why people do it. Since none of us is immortal, holding on to the past like that is a way of grasping some sort of agelessness, of making sure that you and your feelings and your memories will always be relevant. If the future and the progress the future brings continue to go acknowledged or dismissed as fraudulent, it’s almost as if it doesn’t actually exist. And if this doesn’t exist, then you don’t have to recognize or acknowledge your own mortality.
Again, I get it. I really do. But if you are one of these people and you happen to be reading this, please do me a favor. Find a TV at 9 p.m. Drink a beer, sit in a comfortable chair, turn on ABC and try to find a way to somehow have fun watching the best basketball you’ll ever see. Because right now you sound and look as silly as Michael Jordan with distressed jeans.
Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VerySmartBrothas.com. He is also a contributing editor at Ebony.com. He lives in Pittsburgh and he really likes pancakes. You can reach him at email@example.com.