Subscribe via RSS Feed

If only you knew the pain I fought through to write this post.

[ 60 ] February 19, 2012 |

Thanks to a deep desire to nap and a DVR that’s threatening to delete everything I want to watch, I spent a few hours this afternoon watching the Heat and Barcelona win sometime in the past week, and I was struck by how casually brilliant LeBron James and Leo Messi look. When you think of Michael Jordan, you invariably think of the image he cultivated, which looks something like this:

He was a winner, no doubt, but he always played up his own struggle. It was never enough for him to be great: he had to sprinkle the floor with Kryptonite just to remind everyone how incredible Superman is on Tuesdays. James and Messi? They’re content to be great. Neither of them is going to pull a Kobe and leak his every bump and bruise to the media in order to score a “heroic” twenty-one points. They’ll leap and weave around the children like the gods they are and that’ll be that. Consider Messi at 1:33 in this video:

Restraint is a talent, I know, but it doesn’t always manifest itself as disdain, and that shot? It mocks the sport. It asks “You want me to do this?” and shrugs its shoulder in consent. Is it as manly a display as Jordan’s? Absolutely not. But I’ll take it or its sibling — The Kid‘s perpetual “I just did what now?” expression — over the now-conventional displays of aggressively false modesty plaguing major American sports.

Share with Sociable

Comments (60)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Anonymous says:

    Are you trolling your own blog? It was just Michael Jordan’s birthday. Why would you insult him on his birthday?

    • SEK says:

      It was just Michael Jordan’s birthday. Why would you insult him on his birthday?

      That’s actually why the comparison came to mind: on Friday there were all these retrospectives of his greatest plays, and with the exception of one pass to Steve Kerr, they were all of the Struggle To Be Great variety.

    • Tucker says:

      Because he owns the Charlotte Bobcats. From the greatest player ever to one of the worst owners ever. Sterling minus the racism.

  2. strannix says:

    This is definitely the first time I’ve seen “Michael Jordan” and “aggressively false modesty” in the same discussion.

    Besides which, I think his Game 1 shrug against Portland is more representative of how people view him than the image you posted.

    • SEK says:

      Obviously, the iconic image is of him flying is emblazoned on his shoes, but outside of that one, I always associate him with his hands on his knees, almost gassed but about to pull through by dominating clearly inferior opponents. You’re right, though, that I’m joshing about the “aggressively false modesty” bit. I just prefer when dominant athletes dominate with class, instead of celebrating the inevitable with exuberance.

      • Bill Murray says:

        My iconic Jordan image is from a game against the Jazz, where late in a close game, he had a foul called against him and he yelled at the ref, “you can’t call that against me now.”

      • Charrua says:

        Jordan played well into his mid thirties, up until he was 40 with the Wizards.
        A lot of what we remember as his greatest plays happened when he was long past his prime (the second threepeat, for example).
        Look for Jordan plays before he turned 28 and you’ll see a different attitude.

      • Jeffrey Kramer says:

        Isn’t it a bit strange to say that “exuberance” in playing a game marks you down? Was Willie Mays somehow lacking in “class”?

      • DrDick says:

        I was an avid Bulls fan during their championship run (beginning with the first season of it) and saw all the Bulls games and your comparison is simply unfair. That image of Michael is a reflection of the fact that he was largely carrying the team during the first few seasons and always played far more minutes than most NBA stars, including those you mention, every game. He always gave it everything he had and then some.

        Unlike a lot of players, he never whined or complained about it, he just did what needed to be done to win. He was fiercely competitive and he never expressed false modesty nor did he brag about how great he was. Given the supporting roster he had during the early years (or the management of Jerry Krauss), there was nothing inevitable about that string of championships. Ask any Bulls fan who was there.

      • proverbialleadballoon says:

        the lens of hindsight has distorted your image. looking back fifteen years later and knowing that the bulls won six championships in eight years, well, of course they were clearly better than everyone else. but as it was happening, nothing was ‘inevitable’. jordan didn’t win his first championship until he was 27 (coincidentally, the age james is now). the lakers were favored in the first series, because they just won a couple of seasons prior with the same team. the trailblazers were favored the second time, because that team was frickin’ stacked and probably should have won a couple of titles. the suns were favored the third year because they had a ‘hungry’ barkley ;) and rolled everybody that year.

        the only title that was ‘inevitable’ was the first one during the second three-peat, when the bulls went 72-10, and just toyed with everybody all year. the game would be close in the first half, and then in the third quarter the bulls would clamp down on defense and go on a 27-4 run, and the game would be over.

        if you go back and watch some of those games, even earlier-round ones like against the knicks, you’ll see that in real-time, nothing looked inevitable. one that comes to mind because i saw it recently (comcast here in chicago played a bunch of vintage bulls games to fill in time while the nba wasn’t playing) was game three against the lakers in ’91. jordan couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn, he was playing on a sprained toe and had a hole cut out of his shoe ( i know, look at him overcome the adversity!), the bulls were losing by double-digits most of the fourth quarter. if not for some super-sub work by cliff livingston and others, the bulls would have gotten blown out, but they kept it close enough. this is the game when vlade divac hit his ‘oops, did i do that?’ shot, and the lakers had the lead going in to the last possession. of course, jordan tied it at the buzzer cuz that’s what he does, the game went into overtime, jordan and the bulls dominated overtime, won the game, had a 2-1 lead in the series. but the game was a cunt hair away from swinging the other way and the lakers having a 2-1 series lead. the bulls probably should have lost in fact; if there was one of those ‘what are the odds at any given moment a certain team wins’-things that they do, going into that final possession it would be heavily skewed towards the lakers.

        haha, which is all a long way of saying: nothing was inevitable man, it only looks that way now because we know the outcome.

  3. efgoldman says:

    Virtuoso musicians are like that, too. They may be equally great, and fly through the hardest passages flawlessly, but some look like they’re holding the hall up on their shoulders, and others like they’re sitting by the pool with a cold one.

  4. Fighting Words says:

    Other soccer issues:

    On a related issue, Cristiano Ronaldo has scored more goals in La Liga this season than 12 other teams. I am pretty surprised that Cristiano Ronaldo isn’t more popular in the U.S.

    Additionally, Alessandro Del Piero apparently awakened some girl from a coma, so Messi still has a little way to go on the divine intervention front.

    • Randy Paul says:

      I would imagine that, to quote Ian Darke IIRC from Ivory Coast v Portugal in the 2010 WC “anything will make Cristiano Ronaldo go to ground; a puff of wind perhaps.”

    • sven says:

      Did you also hear that story about Del Piero on Football Weekly? As an American who doesn’t currently get FSC, Football Weekly has been a real joy. I can catch up on the results and have a great laugh at the same time. The only downside has been the strange looks I get at the gym when I start giggling for no apparent reason.

      FWIW, the lack of interest in Ronaldo has surprised me as well. Somehow he just doesn’t capture the imagination to the same degree as some other greats. Despite his clear ability, I can think of many other players I actually prefer to watch than Ronaldo. If anyone can explain this, feel free to chime in!

      • Josh says:

        Brian Phillips put it well regarding Ronaldo: he’s “the mercenary face of the mercenary team whose joyless accumulation of superstar talent makes them the ideal foil to Barcelona’s spontaneous natural genius”. (From this post.)

        (This post, also from the Run of Play, gets at a bit of it, too: “He threatens the established notions of what a footballer in Britain should be. His masculinity is effeminate—unabashedly, unapologetically, provocatively; and what’s more, he is very, very good at what he does—unabashedly, unapologetically, provocatively.”)

    • avoidswork says:

      RM is a scoring powerhouse these days in La Liga. I jokingly expect them to score at least 4 in each game. That said, CR is not the playmaker LM is.

      To be fair, RM doesn’t have Xavi/Iniesta. Doesn’t have the brotherhood of the Masia that FCB has. But there are more examples of LM getting a ball in midfield, slotting past 4 or more players and taking the shot on goal vs CR.

      CR goes through spells of not being the team player LM is which is a part of the Magic of Messi. Worse, when CR’s team comes up against LM’s team, it usually works out in LM’s favor.

      I really hope this years CL Final will be an all-Spanish affair since I feel they are hands down the top two teams in Europe. (I also hope FCB wins)

      And, in an odd twist of fate, we are discussing two brilliant players in top form for their respective ages that almost any coach would sell their souls to have on their team.

    • wengler says:

      Yeah, especially since he is a major asshole and named after Ronald Reagan.

  5. Randy Paul says:

    For someone who is all of 5’6″, the fact that Leo Messi doesn’t go to ground when he’s being hammered by players much bigger than him may be the thing to admire the most about him.

    There is probably no greater testament to the respect that fans of the sport have for him than the fact that many Brazilians admire him; a rare source of accolades for Argentinean players.

    • Mark Field says:

      There was a hilarious example of this in the CL game last week. Friedrichs, the Leverkusen defender, is about twice Messi’s size. Messi picked up the ball at midfield and headed for goal. You can see Friedrichs tugging him, yanking on him, doing everything he can think of without access to a weapon, but Messi kept going and dished it to Alves. Friedrichs stayed with Messi, tugging his jersey flagrantly, but Messi shrugged him off an out ran him. After Messi scored on Alves’ cross, Friedrichs was just shaking his head and you could almost see him thinking, “Why. Won’t. You. Fall. Down!”

    • pete says:

      Messi’s center of gravity is low, as was George Best’s and that other little Argentinian’s (the one with the divine hand), which helps. Conversely, C. Ronaldo’s is rather high, and he does tumble. There is (or used to be, less so now) some truth in the criticism of Ronaldo for diving, and also in the credit given Messi. But let’s face it, they’re both really, really, not just world-class but historically good.

  6. Erik Loomis says:

    This post reminds me how excited I am for the next World Cup so I can see hundreds of faked injuries.

  7. Matt says:

    This post reminds me a bit of one of the best things I’ve ever read, by Meatloaf. (Also, one of the best things I’ve ever read by Meatloaf, but that’s a lower standard.) He said that for other musicians, the trick was making things look easier than they really were, but that his trick was making things look much harder than they really were, and that this was the secret to his success. It’s an important skill in life to know which of these paths to try to take.

  8. howard says:

    Casual brilliance is the exact description of the amazing messi, but it helps (and this is not a criticism) that he plays in the perfect system for his talents and he has xavi and iniesta as teammates.

    P.s for erik, if you don’t like fakes to draw fouls, I assume you never watch pro basketball (remind me, when next i’m at my desk to provide the link to frank ramsey’s “how to draw fouls and win games,” his 1963 ghosted si piece about how to fake out the refs and get foul calls, and they obviously weren’t new tricks then and they are still in common use today.

    • TT says:

      Right on. Professional soccer players could learn a thing or two about flopping (and then whining to the refs) from NBA stars. Even though the quality of the basketball is orders of magnitude better than the college game, fake fouls and the acting that comes with them are a major turnoff.

    • SEK says:

      Casual brilliance is the exact description of the amazing messi, but it helps (and this is not a criticism) that he plays in the perfect system for his talents and he has xavi and iniesta as teammates.

      I’m not sure I buy this. Have him as the lone striker in any system, open up space by sending fullbacks up the wings, and let him run across goal. Do you really think he wouldn’t score? (Not saying it hurts to have the two other best players in Europe feeding him balls, but his brilliance tends to be singular. They’d suffer from not having him deliver them perfect passes, though.)

      • Charrua says:

        Did you saw his play in Argentina’s national team?
        They barely qualified for the World Cup, had a so so Cup, did poorly in the Copa America last year at home, etc. Sure, their defense sucks, but it’s not like they are scoring a ton either.

      • Bill Murray says:

        I don’t think Messi plays as a lone striker, I think he usually plays as a winger. That was certainly true when they had Eto’o and Ibrahimovic, but I haven’t seen them as much recently. I imagine they play the main attackers (Messi, Sanchez, Villa, Pedro) rotating through different positions during the game ala Total Football

    • wengler says:

      Messi passes it into the goal. This is what makes him different than nearly every other striker out there. He simply won’t put it over 20 feet from outside the box.

  9. howard says:

    Sven, sorry i’m typing on a phone and can’t “reply,” but my theory is that cristiano so obviously believes that him shooting is the right play every time that it’s hard to warm up to him despite his obvious tremendous talents; it’s sort of like kobe bryant, although of course kobe is also a superior defensive talent, a part of the game in which cristiano has no interest.

  10. The best thing about Messi is that he just won’t go down! at about 7m28s.

    Plus, he does celebrate, but some of his team mates are more raucous than he is, :D

    He is at his best when he is being tripped from all directions. Instead of going down (there is one clip where he could have taken a penalty about 3 times in the box) he keeps bouncing and running.

  11. Greg says:

    LeBron James may be the best thing since sliced bread on the basketball court, but off it, he does himself no glory.

    Witness the latest chapter of “Desperately seeking LeBron”: http://sports.yahoo.com/nba/news?slug=aw-wojnarowski_lebron_james_opt_out_cavaliers_gilbert_021712

  12. Eli Rabett says:

    Why does Argentina specialize in tiny great football players?

    • pete says:

      Two does not really make a speciality, and before Maradona they were best known in my neck of the woods for, um, physical players such as Rattin, 6 foot 4 and solid. (But a guy you’d want on your team and not your opponent’s.)

  13. Adam Roberts says:

    Messi is a great, great player; and he has a particular advantage in being so adept with his left foot. It’s surprising how often he comes up against world-class defenders who are bamboozled by that simple fact — it’s not as if it’s a secret or anything. The montage in this post provides several examples.

    Next stop, Scott: cricket!

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.