Michael Jordan: A book review by Bob Morris

Michael JordanMichael Jordan: A Life
Roland Lazenby
Little, Brown and Company (2014)

A multi-dimensional examination of an exceptionally competitive person, both in sports and in business

This is an immensely interesting biography of someone born in 1963 who, at least so far, seems to have lived the “American Dream” in ways and to an extent that few people have. His achievements are several and significant. He was born to loving parents, the fourth of five children, is a graduate of the University of North Carolina, and among the most talented and wealthiest of all who have played basketball. Currently, and principal owner of the Charlotte franchise in the National Basketball Association. In this volume, Roland Lazenby provides an abundance of information and insights about Michael Jordan’s achievements but I was even more interested in learning more about the person who achieved them.

As Lazenby explains, “I like to write about competitive personalities, especially those in the NBA. I like to write about their families. Among the zillion questions I had about MJ, I wanted to know where he came from, who the Jordans were. They were moonshiners, making and selling illegal liquor on North Carolina’s Coastal Plain. So that’s where his hard edge came from, I thought upon discovering who they were. Just about all the farmers and sharecroppers were moonshiners back in the day. That was their cash crop, the one that kept the family fed. They were tough-minded people, just like Jordan himself.

“I’ve written a book that builds his life from that background. Starting at the beginning, with the birth of his great grandfather Dawson Jordan, allows me to take the reader through the process of his family, his background, and the nurturing of his vast competitive nature. What’s more, it’s immensely fun to track his rise. I enjoyed writing about the sharecroppers on North Carolina’s Coastal Plain, just as I enjoyed writing about the coal miners and frontier settlers in Jerry West’s background in West Virginia. I see it as connecting all of the important cultural dots in the backgrounds of iconic figures.”

Of all that I learned about Jordan’s life and career (thus far), these are the subjects of greatest interest to me:

o Why he was assigned (rather than cut) to the Laney High School junior varsity basketball team (Wilmington, NC)
o Although he carried resentments for decades, why he respected and accepted that decision
o His unique and revealing relationship with his mother, Deloris
o Why Dean Smith and UNC were the best coach and team for him at that time (1981-1984)
o Why the Chicago Bulls won no NBA titles during Jordan’s first six years
o Why Jordan left the Bulls to play professional baseball
o His thoughts and feelings about that decision years later
o Why and how the Bulls then won two “Three-Peats” (1991-1993 and 1999-2001)
o Jordan’s relationship with Phil Jackson and the Triangle Offense
o Jordan and Summer Olympics competition (1984 and 1992)
o Why Jordan played for the Washington Wizards after his second comeback (2001-2003)
o Gambling, golf, and other diversions
o Jordan’s various commercial enterprises and endorsements, during and following his retirement from NBA playing career
o What his achievements as a player and as a businessman share in common

Based on the material in this book that supplements what I have seen, heard, and read about Jordan since his freshman year at UNC, I think Allenby provides a balanced account, as he previously had in other books, especially Jerry West: The Life and Legend of a Basketball Icon (2010) and Mindgames: Phil Jackson’s Long Strange Journey (2007). The best biographies are, of necessity, research-driven and that was especially important to the writing of Jordan’s biography. Allenby seems to have contacted almost all who were close to the Jordan family dating back to, indeed prior to, Michael’s birth as well as to others during the UNC and NBA years, including coaches, players, opponents, and members of what was once referred to as his “posse.”

A more definitive biography of Michael Jordan may be written in years to come, taking into full account what happens between now and then. However, for me, this biography provides all the what, when, why, and with whom I am curious to know about one of the most competitive achievers I have observed and admired during the last 30 years.

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