Yet another reason to be like Mike

May 03, 1999|By Leonard Pitts Jr.

HE ALWAYS had the sweetest moves.

Like in the 1986 playoffs when he faced down Larry Bird. Juking, jerking, stutter-stepping, he toyed with Mr. Bird, then stepped out and popped a jump shot that fell through the net just as pretty as you please.

Basketball aficionados -- and suddenly there were a lot more of them -- were thunderstruck. "Did you see that move? Did you see it?"

New moves

We spent more than a decade watching his moves. But the move Michael Jordan is making now is unlike any he's ever made before. He's negotiating to buy an interest in an National Basketball Association team, the Charlotte Hornets.

Granted, this is not the sort of move to make a play-by-play man weep tears of rapture ("Jordan negotiates patiently, he consults his advisers and . . . yesss." He makes an offer.").

Lesson for children

It is, however, one that should please those of us who have lamented the dead-end roads down which some children travel. There's a lesson here for them to learn.

Nothing new about that, of course. For better or worse, we've spent years using professional athletes as role models for our children. We asked them to exemplify the virtues of hard work, clean living and fair play so that we might feel pride and not panic the day a child said, "I want to be like Mike." Or Julius. Or Hakeem.

Sure, it was an unfair burden. But to be a parent is to need all the help you can get. So after the player made the spectacular play, you felt no compunction about using it as an object lesson: You don't become that good, you said, without practice, sacrifice, dedication . . . and broccoli.

It was especially easy to hold Mr. Jordan up for emulation. He is this Adonis who carries himself with innate dignity and grace. This creature of will, skill and steel who, figuratively and literally, soared above the game he played.

Now Mr. Jordan's moves are made in a different game played in a different arena. No, he's not the first basketball star to jump from one to the other. Most notably, basketball's other great M.J., Magic Johnson, counts a share of his old team, the Lakers, among his holdings.

Solid investment

But Mr. Jordan is, well . . . Mr. Jordan. And as such, he is uniquely positioned to deliver to children who need it a lesson they don't often hear. That while it's fun to be in the limelight and covered with glory, real power derives from controlling your destiny, from investing in things designed to increase your wealth.

Nothing wrong with working behind the counter, you understand. But it's better to own the store.

You hope children who live in desperate places where people control nothing, own nothing, will understand the point. In words of one syllable: Get yours. Strive to own something that grows in value, even if it's just the house you live in. In the game of capitalism, those who own nothing are doomed to sit on the bench.

Mr. Jordan, of course, is in the game. And everybody knows that when Mr. Jordan's in the game, it's an opportunity to watch and learn.

Leonard Pitts is a columnist for the Miami Herald.

Pub Date: 5/03/99

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