“I remember him best this way: One afternoon during his executive stint, he stood by his office window and looked out on the street, the parking lot, that pharmacy in the distance. The faint blare of a horn occasionally floated up from the street. As I prepared to leave, he was staring out the window at nothing in particular. He looked at once imperious and trapped, like a magnificent specimen under glass.
“Anything out there?” I asked.
He shrugged. “No, no.” He smiled. “Sometimes you see a kid dribbling a ball or something like that,” he said.
He could never hear the sound of the dribbled ball, but something always occurred to him: The dribbling kid had a game somewhere. He looked down. Nothing was out there. He turned back, his office soundless. “It gets quiet in here,” he said, and moved about his office, picking up things, putting them down, finally exiting, in search of voices and faces. He had half a life yet to lead. It is an idol’s burden.”
I remember this book coming out, back shortly after Michael Jordan retired for the third and final (?) time as a basketball player, but I wasn’t too interested in it: I’d never been a big fan of books about a person that included no involvement or input from the person himself.
Michael Leahy has changed my mind about such books.
True to the general perception of such books, the main subject — MJ in this case — was not in agreement with this book being written, which usually means there’s some stuff in that the main subject isn’t too proud to have shared with the world. In reading When Nothing Else Matters, I could understand why.
Jordan is my favorite basketball player, and I’ve read and heard a lot about him. One common theme being that MJ is the most competitive, willful and cutthroat athlete many basketball observers have ever seen. That competitive will, combined with his talent and skills, is what made him such an accomplished champion. This is the part of Jordan that every trainer coach and parent-of-an-athlete would want to instill in a developing or underachieving player.
However, those personality traits don’t just turn on and off like a lightswitch.
In When Nothing Else Matters, Leahy, who traveled with the team and had some one-on-one time talking to Jordan (at least until the Jordan camp got a whiff of the fact that Leahy might be turning his Washington Wizards and Michael Jordan journalism into a book, not just mere newspaper columns) paints a picture of a man who was far from contented as a basketball executive (and Jordan was with the Washington Wizards following his second retirement from hoops and the Chicago Bulls) and itched to be on the floor playing, the place where he felt he’d always belonged. Jordan pushes his way out of the office and onto the court, happily ushered there by Wizards ownership (who raked in the increased ticket sales from two straight years of home sellout crowds and all other associated MJ Effect revenue) and his own need to feed that competitive fire.
I came away from this book not any more or less a fan of Michael Jordan than I already was. Michael Jordan pushed himself and his aching knees to the absolute limits of what they could take, even for games in which he played so poorly the team would have been better off with him sitting it out for rest, because of his commitment to showing up every day and his desire to be out there, trying, even to the point of failing badly, rather than not making an attempt. That, if anything, is the one Jordan-example lesson that any professional or amateur could learn from this book.
We also learn that this same drive made Mike somewhat of an asshole to people, ribbing and needling some and scorching others who couldn’t handle it. His impulsive decision to leave the executive offices and prepare for playing, along with his feeling of superiority next nearly everyone in the Wizards organization left his flank open for being unceremoniously booted from Washington at the conclusion of his 2 seasons as a player.
When Nothing Else Matters is a clear glimpse into what it was like to be a fly on the wall — or a beat reporter in the locker room — as the Greatest Player Of All Time gave it one more try.
You Should Read When Nothing Else Matters IF: You’re a Jordan fan, or if you enjoy reading books that are investigative stories yet still fairly told.