The irony of that goal against Getafe, in retrospect, is that he's not the next Maradona; he's nothing like Maradona. Maradona was all energy, right on the surface; watching Messi is like watching someone run in a dream. Like Cristiano Ronaldo, Maradona jumped up to challenge you; if you took the field against him, he wanted to humiliate you, to taunt you. Messi plays like he doesn't know you're there. His imagination is so perfectly fused with his technique that his assumptions can obliterate you before his skill does.
He has always seemed oddly nonthreatening for someone with a legitimate claim to being the best soccer player in history. He seems nice, and maybe he is. (He goes on trial for tax evasion soon; it is impossible to believe he defrauded authorities on purpose, because it is impossible to believe that he manages his finances at all.) On the pitch, though, this is deceptive. It's an artifact of his indifference to your attention. He doesn't notice whether or not you notice. His greatness is nonthreatening because it is so elusive, even though its elusiveness is what makes it a threat.
Messi is only 27, holds or is within striking distance of all sorts of all-time records, and I'm already sad about his career ending. This is big talk, perhaps nonsense, but Messi might be better at soccer than Michael Jordan was at basketball. I dunno, I was bummed when Jordan retired (well, the first two times anyway), but with Messi, thinking about his retirement, it seems to me like soccer will lose something special that it will never ever see again.
Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant played against each other in only eight NBA games, but none of the games took place with both players in their prime. Their first few meetings, dominated by Jordan, happened during Kobe's first and second NBA seasons, when he was an impulsive and unpolished teen. Their final meetings, dominated by Bryant, found an out-of-retirement Jordan on the hapless Washington Wizards, pushing 40 years old.
But more than any other two marquee players in NBA, Jordan and Kobe have played with very similar styles. Like almost identically similar, as this video clearly shows:
The first 15 seconds of the video is a fantastic piece of editing, stitching together similar moves made by each player into seamless single plays. And dang...even the tongue wagging thing is the same. How many hours of Jordan highlight reels did Kobe watch growing up? And practicing moves in the gym?
As an aside, and I can't believe I'm saying such a ridiculous thing in public, but I can do a pretty good MJ turnaround fadeaway. I mean, for a 6-foot-tall 40-year-old white guy who doesn't get a lot of exercise and has never had much of a vertical leap. I learned it from watching Jordan highlights on SportsCenter and practicing it for hundreds of hours in my driveway against my taller next-door neighbor. I played basketball twice in the past month for the first time in years. Any skills I may have once had are almost completely gone...so many airballs and I couldn't even make a free throw for crying out loud. Except for that turnaround. That muscle memory is still intact; the shots were falling and the whole thing felt really smooth and natural. I think I'll still be shooting that shot effectively into my 70s. (via devour)
Michael Jordan just turned 50 and so Deadspin's Emma Carmichael asked former Cavs guard Craig Ehlo what it was like to guard Jordan in his prime. Sometimes Jordan would tell Ehlo what he was going to do ahead of time and still score.
Usually, Ron Harper would start on him, then I would come in and go to him, and Ron would go to Scottie Pippen or something like that. I always felt very lucky that Coach Wilkens had that faith in me to guard him. Michael was very competitive when he got between the lines. He was never a bad talker or too arrogant, but it was just like what Jason [Williams] said: He'd tell you. He only did that to me one time, from what I remember. It was his 69-point game, and things were going so well for him that I guess he just went for it. We were running up the court side-by-side and he told me: "Listen man, I'm hitting everything, so I'm gonna tell you what I'm gonna do this time and see if you can stop it. You know you can't stop it. You know you can't stop this. You can't guard me.
"I'm gonna catch it on the left elbow, and then I'm gonna drive to the left to the baseline, and then I'm gonna pull up and shoot my fadeaway."
1. "Jordan never would have done THAT." The THAT in question is not bringing it in the playoffs. Taking your foot off the pedal in the playoffs is just not done if you're supposedly one of the top players in the game.
2. "We made so much fuss about LeBron these past two years and he's not even the most important dude on his own team." LeBron might be the better pure player, but Wade is a leader and winner.
The Heat may go on to win the title this year and for six or seven years to come but unless something changes with LeBron's approach to the game, he'll never be as great as Jordan was. There's more to being the best than just talent.
The crowd, Jordan remembered, got very quiet. That was, he said later, the moment for him. The moment, he explained, was what all Phil Jackson's Zen Buddhism stuff, as he called it, was about: how to focus and concentrate and be ready for that critical point in a game, so that when it arrived you knew exactly what you wanted to do and how to do it, as if you had already lived through it. When it happened, you were supposed to be in control, use the moment, and not panic and let the moment use you. Jackson liked the analogy of a cat waiting for a mouse, patiently biding its time, until the mouse, utterly unaware, finally came forth.
The play at that instant, Jordan said, seemed to unfold very slowly, and he saw everything with great clarity, as Jackson had wanted him to: the way the Utah defense was setting up, and what his teammates were doing. He knew exactly what he was going to do. "I never doubted myself," Jordan said later. "I never doubted the whole game."
When NBA history is written, my guess is that no one will be able to top what Michael Jordan accomplished on the court (Bill Russell, possibly, aside). He was a fantastic athlete and possessed the focus and discipline to make the most of his physical gifts (by which I mean he had the pathological need to completely and totally dismantle everyone else on the court: opponents, teammates, officials, etc.). Basketball is full of mostly-one-or-the-other players: Larry Bird, for example, was not particularly physically gifted but more than made up for it in discipline and Shaq is an amazing athlete but lacked a certain focus at times. Oh, you'll say, but what about: 1. LeBron (might be more talented than Jordan but is missing the necessary clinical insanity that Jordan had) or 2. Kobe (slightly less talented and driven, but might make up for it with longevity).
But to be fair, the shot against Russell was not the final shot of Jordan's career. After that article was written, in 1998, Jordan returned to the NBA for two lackluster seasons with the Washington Wizards. His last NBA shot was a free throw in the final two minutes of a meaningless 107-87 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers. Acting on the orders of his coach Larry Brown, Sixers guard Eric Snow fouled Jordan so that Jordan could score some points and leave the game on a high note. The Wizards fouled shortly after and Jordan left to a standing ovation. The intensity that propelled Jordan to such great heights early in his career also drove him to retire too early (twice!) and then come back after it was too late to put an odd sort of question mark on an exclamation point of a career. (via jb)