david j roth

That’s So Jordan

Normally, there’d be something odd about all of basketball spending NBA All-Star weekend getting all misty, awed, wistful, and click-bait-slideshow-y about the 50th birthday of the man who owns the league’s worst franchise, and who is known as one of the most capricious and nastiest narcissists in sports history. This was not quite one of those Dictator Birthday Spectaculars—150,000 terrified civilians performing choreographed praise semaphore in some totalitarian urinal of a soccer stadium while brainwashed children sing odes to a blank-faced hemorrhoidal birthday-tyrant and the military marches its missiles around for seven hours—but also not totally not that kind of thing. That the 50-year-old in question is Michael Jordan explains a good part of it, naturally: He is the greatest basketball player ever, and that being more or less beyond dispute does not make it something basketball fans are less excited to talk about. But in the decade since Jordan’s last NBA game, talking about His Airness has become a different and stranger thing than it was.

It’s not that Jordan lacked complexity back when he was great and vicious and dazzling as a player. Jordan was known both as an impossible-to-solve athlete who dominated the NBA and a businessman who first crafted and then actually personally became a vanquishment-oriented global luxury brand. He berated and belittled teammates, he gambled and philandered extravagantly and did all the other things that professional athletes do, he coupled his unreal physical grace with heavy anger and gnashing narcissism. Whatever illusions once existed about Michael Jordan not being a warped, rageful asshole—the Ayn Rand ideal of a prime mover come to implausibly elegant and predictably brutal life—were clearly illusions even at the height of his beauty.

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let us now praise famous 2nd-wave emo abdicators

One of my favorite moments on Twitter ever. The wildly estimable David Roth got it started and I went nuts. His contributions are in italics, to indicate quality.

Lyrics from Jeremy Affeldt’s Xian rock song about his sub-chin bro-strip
“chinstrap blues (my life’s His to use)”
Praise U with my face
Praise U cause you took my place
Praise you, my soul you saved
praise you every time I sha-have.

forever highlight my jaw and chin
salvaton swallows my jowls and sin
(bridge) I wear my heart
on my sleeve
but my faith lives a diff'rent place
the Lord’s love
Is my profile’s sheath
I wear Christ’s blood
on my face
(chorus) It’s not a flavor savor
it’s braver savior

All we need now is a couple-three more verses!

Why Sports Help

At some point, it’s clearly best just to turn it off. These blasts of idiot panic on Twitter, all these self-appointed (and actually appointed) social-media editors burping up liveblogs of some in-studio haircut’s dunderheaded ad libs or playing some screeching game of telephone with police scanner chatter. Those aforementioned haircuts, speculating rankly to fill minutes of airtime or reciting now-familiar horrors over looped video of whirling sirens. These fucking clownish Infowars rage-loafs, staring down very real horror and frothingly appliquéing the usual black helicopters in the usual places, sad old children writing themselves into some raised-letter airport potboiler, swapping their asinine imaginary horrors for the world’s and calling themselves brave; these Reddit sleuths taking a clammy break from mapping the bleaker margins of the Friend Zone to slap some MS Paint on smudgy photos and misidentify some monsters. Turn it off, turn it off. There is nothing here, nothing useful to learn, only more of the guilty inertia that leads us to put this shit on in the background in the first place. We should care, and we do care. We should want to know, and we do want to know. But there’s nothing here for us, at the moment. So I’m going to a baseball game tonight, where it’s quieter and more human.

It’s a Mets game, so obviously it’s not really “quieter.” But no baseball game, even one featuring a team that currently plays defense with all the grace and efficacy of a corgi chasing a torpedo, is ever really quiet. There are tens of thousands of other people there at the game, murmuring and sometimes cheering and sometimes booing and asking each other if they want a beer and doing their best to explain to (rightly) confused kids how the infield fly rule works, and why Ruben Tejada, the Mets’ palpably aghast and supremely snakebit shortstop, just scooped up a grounder and whipped it into the mezzanine. There are the little farts of spastic reggaeton and strutting butt-rock and Drake-mewls that soundtrack the players’ approach to the plate, too, and various other uses of the public address system. At some point in the game, fans will probably get up and sing Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” as a sort of tribute to Boston, the locked-down and terrified/defiant city that invented this particular in-game ritual. I probably won’t sing it, because I don’t generally do that sort of thing, but I’ll stand up and sit down with everyone else. I think that will be enough for me, and probably for many others there, standing and sitting all around in whatever silence or sound they choose.

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But then there’s high school football, where very young people make mistakes and older people sit in the stands and yell the worst things they can think of at other people’s children. Again, it’s your life and your thing, and if confessing in a scoutish, authoritative tone to a bleacher neighbor that some 15-year-old you’ll never meet “kind of fagged it up” on that play is what you need to do, then certainly good luck getting well. But if we’re going to draw a line, we might as well draw it here. Or maybe slightly further out, somewhere around the increasingly overstated and reliably depressing stretch that culminated earlier this week with college football’s National Signing Day.