"A Sense of Where Everybody Is"

By Steve Sailer (steveslr@aol.com) , a Chicago businessman and writer.

This was commissioned by National Review upon the retirement of Michael Jordan, but was then spiked for being "too idiosyncratic."

As astounding as Michael Jordan's accomplishments have been, he was not a unique athletic prodigy like Tiger Woods or Babe Didrickson Zaharias. His coming had been foretold, both by skywalkers like Elgin Baylor, Julius Erving, and David Thompson, and by more earthbound talents like Oscar Robertson and Magic Johnson. Jordan culminated the black conquest of basketball, the transformation of a manic-depressive game of both wild gunners and stodgy pre-fabricated plays into today's free-flowing, above-the-rim, yet defensively stringent celebration of black manhood.

Jordan epitomizes the physical advantages that West Africans tend to enjoy in basketball, such as huge hands and long legs and arms. Most useful, however, is that West African potential to be lean yet massively muscular. Initially, a lanky leaper with only 3 per cent body fat, Jordan later took up weightlifting and packed on 30 more pounds, yet remained 97% fat free.

Yet, if physique is all that mattered, the high-flying Dominique Wilkins would have been Jordan's peer. Personality also matters: Beneath his nice guy image, Jordan is as furiously competitive as Ty Cobb. Character matters: By his return to the NBA at 33, Jordan's jumping ability had faded, so he used, of all things, a summer in Hollywood filming a movie to rigorously rebuild himself from a jammer to a mid-range jumpshooter.

And intelligence matters: Jordan's three straight NBA titles during his physically declining years finally started opening white fans' eyes to the fact that black basketball superiority also rests on black mental talents, the same interpersonal improvisational skills underlying their success in jazz, rap, preaching, and playing cornerback. Even more remarkable than leading the NBA in scoring for ten seasons is that for the last nine Jordan was also voted to the All NBA Defensive First Team. John McPhee's 1965 book, "A Sense of Where You Are," described how high-scoring Bill Bradley, now a Presidential candidate, always knew where he was in relation to the basket. While no Rhodes Scholar (sportswriters joke about whether Jordan's read as many books as he's written), Jordan exemplified the black tendency to possess "A Sense of Where Everybody Is."

Since sports undermine dogmas of human equality, intellectuals try not to think seriously about them. Michael Jordan, however, reminded us that dismay is a less reasonable response to human diversity than awe.

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