Wednesday, September 09, 2009
Outside the Aviary: "Who Is He (And What Is He To You)?"
Lost in the din and glamor of the beginning of football's seasons, the playoff chases in baseball and the general loss of words we have for the lack of summer in NYC this year is an amazing feat: the greatest player in basketball history paying homage to his primogenitor.
Lost in the amazing 80s-early 90s run in the NBA is the man who brought the game above the rim. A forgotten name amongst the greats of the game; a name that gets props from some of the 50 greatest names in basketball history, including Charles Barkley, but can't get his name in a headline on ESPN. David Thompson began the principles of swagger. He wasn't allowed to dunk in college-- he of the 44" vert-- so he would literally play above the rim by placing the ball over it. He was an unstoppable force that helped stop an unstoppable force when N.C. State beat UCLA in the 1974 NCAA tournament during an undefeated championship run. He was a number one pick in TWO leagues and chose against the NBA-- against it.
Lost in the 70s and early 80s, since his career didn't amount to the greatness it should have, Michael Jordan is putting David Thompson on a stage of the elite when he had hall-of-fame teammates, coaches, and an alma mater full of greatness. Jordan has made his point: this is about basketball and nothing more-- not friendship, nepotism, heroism or a belief that he owes something to anyone other than his inspiration. This is a chance to show why Michael Jordan became Michael Jordan. No lore of his high-school failure or recanting of the old days in college or even talk from an old battle partner on the greatness of the man. Nope, this is going to be basketball, pure and simple, from one man who knew what it was like to be the most explosive man on a court at any given time to another.
Lost in the surprise: Jordan lifting the curtain to reveal his respect for Thompson's game probably surprised many people. It did me at first. But doesn't it make perfect sense? After all, for all the shoe jockeying, movie making and commercialization, isn't the intention of Jordan to promote basketball first? And North Carolina basketball at that? (See: Gerald Henderson, Brandon Wright, Sean May, Raymond Felton.) Thompson was from Shelby, North Carolina and played in Raleigh. He was North Carolina basketball's first shining example during and after the ABA-NBA merger. He was one of the first real above the rim players to rep the ACC during the Dr. J years. Or, to sum it all up, there's this:
Thompson rocks his NC State credentials on his chest and Mike just awes over the legend of one of his heroes.
Found: a legend before the legend. They are the culmination of North Carolina basketball through Everett Case and Dean Smith and Coach K and the rest: the ultimate prize of presenting the greatest baller in history lies in the hands of a man whose legend goes unremembered. ESPN and NBA.com both herald Jordan's hero as an "ex-NC State star." Not a basketball hall-of-famer, not David Thompson, not even former great. Just an ex-NC baller. For Jordan, that's perfect. Here's hoping people listen to the speech and listen well. The beginnings and culmination of the modern era of basketball are to be witnessed to the land via North Carolina pride.