I love the “Director’s Cut” reprint series over at Grantland. Today, they’ve got a 1995 New Yorker piece by David Remnick titled “Back in Play.” It’s about Michael Jordan’s return to the NBA:
For my own peace of mind, I talked with two of Jordan’s precursors at the guard position — Bob Cousy and Walt Frazier — and neither had any doubt that Jordan would scrape off the rust in time for the trials of May. Retired ballplayers — especially players of a certain level — are often touchy about the subject of the current crop. They can be grouchy, deliberately uncomprehending, like aging composers whining about the new-fangled twelve-tone stuff. But not where Jordan is concerned. Cousy, who led the Celtics in the fifties and early sixties, and Frazier, who led the Knicks in the late sixties and the seventies, would not begrudge Jordan his eminence.
“Until six or seven years ago, I thought Larry Bird was the best player I had ever seen,” Cousy, who works as a broadcaster for his old team, said. “Now there is no question in anyone’s mind that Jordan is the best. He has no perceptible weaknesses. He is perhaps the most gifted athlete who has ever played this foolish game, and that helps, but there are a lot of great athletes in his league. It’s a matter of will, too. Jordan is always in what I call a ready position, like a jungle animal who is always alert, stalking, searching. It’s like the shortstop getting down and crouching with every pitch. Jordan has that awareness, and that costs you physically. If you do it, you are so exhausted you have trouble getting out of bed in the morning. Not many athletes do it. To me, he hasn’t lost a thing.”
“Leapers are usually not great shooters, but Michael is the exception,” Frazier said. “If you give him a few inches, he buries the jump shot. When he gets inside, his back is to the basket and he’s shakin’ and bakin’ and you’re dead. When he drives, good night. He’s gone. Now that the league has made hand-checking illegal — you can’t push your man around on defense any longer — it’s conceivable that Michael could score even more. I don’t think he’s even sensed that he has more license now. When he does, he’ll be scoring sixty if he feels like it.”