"Michael Jordan's Redeemed Purpose"
I previously mentioned possibly (and probably) the greatest basketball player of all time, Michael Jordan. Jordan wisely exercised his athletic talent and competitive spirit and physical stature, all given by God. He worked hard and built upon these strengths until becoming the most famous basketball player of all time. Not only that, but Jordan has earned millions upon millions in endorsements (and continues to do so even to this day).
Most would call him tremendously successful. Nearly everyone would say that Jordan has and is fulfilling his purpose in life by using his special talents. However, it all depends upon what one’s purpose is! He might have fulfilled his purpose, his destiny, in general terms, but did he fulfill his redeemed purpose? If our purpose is to glorify God and do all in our power to advance the cause of Christ while on this earth, was he successful? Did he exercise his talents and abilities for this overarching purpose or mission?
I have read one of his authorized biographies and other articles about him. Jordan speaks very little (if any) about God or any type of faith. As a matter of fact, he often appears to be a struggling soul, lost in life. In an OTL (Outside the Lines) article written by ESPN’s Wright Thompson (in 2013?), Jordan says,
"I like reminiscing. I do it more now watching basketball than anything. Man, I wish I was playing right now. I would give up everything now to go back and play the game of basketball."
"How do you replace it?" he's asked.
"You don't. You learn to live with it."
"It's a process," he says.
A common word used to describe Jordan is "rage." Jordan might have stopped playing basketball, but the rage is still there. The fire remains, which is why he searches for release, on the golf course or at a blackjack table, why he spends so much time and energy on his basketball team and why he dreams of returning to play.
In case anyone in the inner circle forgets who's in charge, they only have to recall the code names given to them by the private security team assigned to overseas trips. Estee is Venom. George is Butler. Yvette is Harmony. Jordan is called Yahweh -- a Hebrew word for God.
Jordan didn't give that [Hall of Fame] speech, and the reason is both simple and obvious. He didn't see himself as part of the past, or as someone who'd found perspective. He wasn't nostalgic that night. The anger that drove his career hadn't gone away, and he didn't know what to do with it. So at the end of the speech, he said perhaps the most telling and important thing in it, which has been mostly forgotten.
He described what the game meant to him. He called it his "refuge" and the "place where I've gone when I needed to find comfort and peace." Basketball made him feel complete, and it was gone.
The chasm between what his mind wants and what his body can give grows every year. If Jordan watches old video of Bulls games and then hits the gym, he says he'll go "berserk" on the exercise machines. It's frightening. A while back, his brother, Larry, who works for the team, noticed a commotion on the practice court. He looked out the window of his office and saw his brother dominating one of the best players on the Bobcats in one-on-one. The next morning, Larry says with a smile, Jordan never made it into his office. He got as far as the team's training room, where he received treatment.
"You paying the price, aren't you?" Larry asked.
"I couldn't hardly move," Jordan said.
Once, the whole world watched him compete and win -- Game 6, the Delta Center -- and now it's a small group of friends in a hotel room playing a silly kid's game.
There's no way to measure these things, but there's a strong case to be made that Jordan is the most intense competitor on the planet. He's in the conversation, at the very least, and now he has been reduced to grasping for outlets for this competitive rage.
His self-esteem has always been, as he says, "tied directly to the game." Without it, he feels adrift. Who am I? What am I doing? For the past 10 years, since retiring for the third time, he has been running, moving as fast as he could, creating distractions, distance.
"It's consumed me so much," he says. "I'm my own worst enemy. I drove myself so much that I'm still living with some of those drives. I'm living with that. I don't know how to get rid of it. I don't know if I could. And here I am, still connected to the game."
Aging means losing things, and not just eyesight and flexibility. It means watching the accomplishments of your youth be diminished, maybe in your own eyes through perspective, maybe in the eyes of others through cultural amnesia. Most people live anonymous lives, and when they grow old and die, any record of their existence is blown away. They're forgotten, some more slowly than others, but eventually it happens to virtually everyone. Yet for the few people in each generation who reach the very pinnacle of fame and achievement, a mirage flickers: immortality. They come to believe in it. Even after Jordan is gone, he knows people will remember him. Here lies the greatest basketball player of all time. That's his epitaph. When he walked off the court for the last time, he must have believed that nothing could ever diminish what he'd done. That knowledge would be his shield against aging.
There's a fable about returning Roman generals who rode in victory parades through the streets of the capital; a slave stood behind them, whispering in their ears, "All glory is fleeting." Nobody does that for professional athletes. Jordan couldn't have known that the closest he'd get to immortality was during that final walk off the court, the one symbolically preserved in the print in his office. All that can happen in the days and years that follow is for the shining monument he built to be chipped away, eroded. Maybe he realizes that now. Maybe he doesn't.
He hates being alone, because that means it's quiet, and he doesn't like silence. He can't sleep without noise. Sleep has always been a struggle for him. All the late-night card games, the trips to the casino during the playoffs, they've been misunderstood. They weren't the disease, they were the cure.
This article and others (including books) often portray one of the most successful athletes and brands in the world as nearly a tortured soul. Yes, he was, without doubt, gifted athletically/physically by God. His redeemed purpose, His destiny, was to use those gifts and talents to enjoy a personal relationship with Christ, to reveal the glory of God to others, and to advance God’s kingdom. So has he been successful thus far?
We may or may not be effectively utilizing our God-given talents and strengths for any purpose whatsoever. We need to be. Secondly, as Christians, we need to find our “redeemed purpose and then determine how we can most effectively wield our gifts in order to fulfill our destiny, our purpose in life. Our purpose is to enjoy the “God-life,” to glorify God in all we do, and to advance God’s kingdom.
Let me take one exception to the secular viewpoint of “immortality” and legacy presented by the author. As believers in Christ and children God, we are NEVER forgotten. Our legacy and our lives lived for God continue to impact the world we leave behind. Oh, true, people on earth will forget all about us…eventually. However, our Heavenly Father, our Savior, the Angels, and all of the saints in heaven will remember our faithfulness for eternity!