The Jordan Mystique: He Got Game

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Jesus Shuttlesworth: God ain’t shit!
Jake Shuttlesworth: Number one, why you gotta use this kinda language? What you some kinda heathen now? You don’t make no mistakes? You be out here shootin’, but you don’t miss no shots ever? EVER? People make mistakes! People veer off the path! God forgives them!
Jesus Shuttlesworth: Has God forgiven you for killing my mother?
Jake Shuttlesworth: I pray that he has, Son. I believe he has. When will you?

The world is full of lies. Don’t believe me? Turn on the television at any time. You’ll be exposed to a wide array of glittery falsehoods and propaganda posing as truth. In a recent viewing of the OKC vs. NY game, I was shocked to see the shameless lengths that marketing mad-men are willing to go in order to promote their products. They want us to believe that yogurt has orgasmic properties for women, fast food workers are content enough with their jobs that they are often propelled to have casual dance parties, and Mumford & Sons is a band you should actually pay money to see. The dangers lie in the sucker who accepts these deceptions, and begin to concoct their own reasons for spending their hard-earned, tax-pillaged-and-plundered money on such baseless illusions. I guess buying yogurt will not result in too much calamity, unless however things are not quite steamy in your relationship, but take for instance the new Air Jordan 28 sneakers. Disregard the fact that the “28s” actually follow the “23s” which was supposed to be the last true Air Jordan released, sensibly coinciding with Mike’s number in his playing days. Actually, regard it, regard it meticulously and heavily, because unless you can find the missing four Air Jordans that I somehow missed the decision to create the “28s” makes about as much sense as the whole daylight savings concept. Besides, the Air Jordan 28s kinda looks just like some obscene offspring of two crippled mutants from the planet of foulness-landia…mixed with Zach Galifinakis.

Even at the age of 23, I get nostalgic longings for the past. The days forgone when Saturday mornings meant a box of cereal, Doug, and the only concern involved getting my homework done. These days also marked the golden age of the Jordan line, when the sneakers didn’t look like shit. In 1997, the Jordan 13s were released. Although plenty was provided, there was not much marketing needed to tout the praises of MJ’s on court abilities. By the end of the 1997 season, Jordan had once again brought the championship trophy back to Chi-Town after playing through his famous “flu game” and hitting a game winning shot against Karl and John’s Utah Jazz to win the series in six games. Jordan would eventually add another ring to his arsenal, after yet again defeating the Jazz in the ’98 finals with the most famous shot of his career over Byron Russell. In these times, the height of His Airness had elevated to divine levels, and the myth continued to augment. During this time, all the heroes of my past began to lose their appeal…even Doug. Simply put, Jordan was unstoppable. Others were mere mortals, but Jordan appeared to be cut from the same cloth as Jesus.

In May 1998, Spike Lee released the film He Got Game, only months before he was to take that last shot before his retirement…temporary retirement. The film is about a high school basketball superstar named Jesus Shuttlesworth, who is played by Ray Allen. On the surface, it seems as though Jesus’ life is perfect. Every college and your-mama-university wants to recruit him, he’s dating Rosario Dawson, and reaping the rewards of the good ole illegal-under-the-table financial profits that most stars of his fictional caliber are showered upon on him. And there are not just dollar signs showered upon him, but co-eds as well, such as in a scene where Rick Fox takes on a tour of one of his prospective campuses, with willing white groupies galore. But despite Jesus’ VIP access to utopia, his personal life is rife with hardship.

And that’s where his father comes in. Jake Shuttlesworth, played by Denzel Washington, is a prisoner currently involved in a corrupt temporary release program. Although Jake has been estranged from his son since his imprisonment, Jake is recruited by the governor to persuade his son to attend “Big State,” the governor’s alumni school. If Jake can somehow convince his son to attend Big State, the governor will hand him his freedom papers.

But therein lies the problem. Jake is in prison for murdering his wife, and of course, Jesus’ mother, a situation that doesn’t sit well with Jesus, clearly. Through sporadic flashbacks, we see that both Jake and Jesus once had a strong father-son bond and friendship. A baller himself, Jake schools his young son on the particulars of the game, often times pushing him to extreme levels. In one instance, a clearly intoxicated Jake repeatedly scolds young Jesus in a late-night one-on-one basketball game at the park. Jake pulls no punches in the game, playing hard defense, and allowing for no easy baskets. When Jesus finally comes to his wits end, he emphatically throws the basketball over the fence, screaming “I quit!” as the soaring ball slowing pans out of the screen. Jesus walks home without his father, dejected and pissed off.

Later at dinner, still pissed, Jesus is unresponsive to his father, and later asks to be excused from the table. Jake, still drunk, furiously confronts his son, and things quickly turn heated. When Jesus’ mother tries to intervene, Jake pushes her off, and she unfortunately falls on the blunt edge of the counter, and falls unfortunately to her death, hence Jake’s prison term for manslaughter. With the death of his mother at the hands of his father, Jesus uses his rage-filled motivation to perfect his basketball skills.

Life in general had a more sanctified edge to it at age 9 for me. Doug was good. Roger was bad. Situations in life could be easily divided into the two groups, without much room for wavering. Michael Jordan was the real-life embodiment of good. Most marketers aim their products at children, which is why every December my Christmas list was compiled of most of the cool toys I saw marketing on Saturday morning commercials. Jordan was no different. In the media, he appeared to me perfect in every sense of the word. The movie Space Jam had a lot to do with Mike’s celestial nature. On Sunday mornings/afternoons (if you’ve ever been to a predominantly black church, you know what I mean) I heard preachers speak about the second coming of Christ. Fools, I thought. The second coming had already arrived, and he wore the number 23 on his back.

But childlike idealism is quick to vanish, as you already know. Later in life, I discovered that MJ wasn’t so Jesus-like after all. In fact, Michael Jordan was guilty of many things the real Jesus would frown upon, such as gambling. Jordan was one of the most famous high-stakes gamblers of modern times. Although it never really interfered with his on-court play, Jordan was known to have been spotted at casinos hours before huge games, such as the much-publicized instance where he was spotted in Atlantic city right before a playoff match with the Knicks. And it doesn’t stop with gambling, I’m afraid. Jordan was reportedly involved in a plethora of extramarital affairs, the most infamous involved a court battle between his former mistress Karla Knafel when she sued him after he failed to pay her the 5 million dollars that he had promised.

However, Jordan’s on-court persona can’t be disputed, or can it? Many of Jordan’s teammates have come forward to say that although he was the undisputed greatest, he was a terrible teammate. If you’ve ever had the chance to read Sam Smith’s classic, The Jordan Rules, you know that most of Jordan’s teammates were less than content with his treatment of him. Bill Cartwright, the Center for the Bulls in their early hay-day, is probably the most outspoken detractor of Jordan’s idealized image in the media. Once when Jordan was heavily mocking Cartwright in the locker room after a game, the 7’1 Cartwright told the 6’6 Jordan that “if you ever do anything like that again, you will never play basketball again because I will break both of your legs.” Scottie Pippen, Stacey King, and a host of others also had problems with Jordan throughout their various stints with him.

Additionally, Jordan’s managerial decisions have rarely produced reputable results. In 2001, while working with the Washington Wizards, Jordan made the tragic decision to take Kwame Brown first overall, missing out players like Tony Parker, Pau Gasol, Jason Richardson, Zach Randolph, Tyson Chandler, Shane Battier, and hell…even Brendan Haywood. Jordan also decided to trade Richard Hamilton to the Detroit Pistons, who went on to win the championship a year after Jordan was fired from the Wizards franchise. And let’s not get started on the Charlotte Bobcats, even though Kemba Walker and Gerald Henderson might turn the ‘Cats into contenders someday…

And let me get this straight, because there is a popular internet meme surfacing the internet featuring Kobe Bryant asking Michael Jordan how he achieved that 6th ring. Jordan says “he passed the ball.” I feel this needs addressing, because some poor souls out there might actually believe this, but the truth of the matter is, Jordan hardly ever passed the ball, unless he was getting triple teamed. If you don’t believe me, read about the many related complaints from his teammates in The Jordan Rules, and watch old Bulls games on NBA Hardwood Classics.

As sports fans, we tend to put an enormous amount of stock in the impossible. It’s cool to think of Jordan not only possessing God-like basketball skills, chilling with Bugs Bunny in his spare time, but also living a righteous philanthropic life off the court. Because on the surface, Jordan is Jesus. However, his transparent failings are what make him mortal. His relentless drive to be the best not always translated into storybook successes. And while I don’t condone all of Jordan’s extracurricular activities, Jordan’s mistakes, in my opinion, make him a far more endearing figure.

The most climatic scene in He Got Game occurs when the aging Jake Shuttlesworth challenges his son to a basketball game…with an offer on the table. If Jake wins, Jesus will sign his intent to attend Big State, and thereby ensuring his father’s permanent release from prison. After a hard-fought battle, wrought with complicated feelings on both sides, Jesus is victorious over his father for the first time in their playing days. Although Jake attempts to persuade Jesus to attend the school despite the game’s outcome, Jesus rips up statement-of-intent document. As a dejected Jake walks to the police cars awaiting to cuff him and take him back to prison, he utters one last word of guidance to his son: “Let me tell you something son, you get that hatred out your heart, or you’ll end up just another nigga, like your father.”

Eventually, Jesus decides to attend Big State, but according to the governor, the decision was not met because of Jake’s insistence, and Jake will unfortunately remain incarcerated. The relationship between father and son is ressurected however, and moments before the film’s finale the two are seen writing letters to each other.

This Saturday, the Air Jordan 13 “He Got Games” will be retro-ed, named after the classic Spike Lee film, and the classic player who wore the shoes. A lot of people feel that the 13s mark the end of the “golden era” of Air Jordan sneakers, and with Tinker Hatfield’s newest mutant creation, they might be right. But Momma always told me, boy count your blessings, so let’s celebrate the release of one of the finest shoes ever to sport the Jumpman logo.

Also, check out one of my favorite scenes from He Got Game. What’s one of the first things that Jake Shuttlesworth does when he gets out of jail?

By the way, the $139, “one-fiddy” with tax sounds incredible to me, considering I’m about to drop $170, $185 with tax. And there goes that good ole’ nostalgia creeping back in. Oh well. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone ever say something like bread is a lot more cheaper now than

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