This was not always the case. Michael Jordan was not always a real person, but a folk hero, a sort of King Arthur of the hardwood. We mythologized his mid-range jumpshot, defense, and leaping ability - the latter, especially so. Despite measurements proving otherwise, despite the absolute impossibility of it, we insisted that he possessed some unquantifiable "hang time", that he could float, fly, and otherwise thwart the basic tenants of the Universe. Michael Jordan was not God, if only because God wouldn't disregard physics merely to win a game. But Jordan would do that, and anything else.
And so we loved him for it, my generation most of all. We were raised in a world already discovered, with every mountain climbed, every ocean crossed. There was nothing left to see, do, or find. We had only to turn on the television, and there was everything, in that box, in our living room. But there was Jordan, something beyond that, like Batman with a basketball, a hero who always won in the end. The games existed as his stage, and he devoured the scenery. His eccentricities, quirks, and expressions were catalogued, and then marketed to a hungry public.
We bought it - all of it. If we were too young, we asked our parents for money. We sought on old video games, if only so we could play as his virtual avatar, wore his jersey, and collected his cards. Above my bed was a poster. On it, he soared over the Earth - literally, in space, dwarfing the planet itself. Somehow this did not seem hyperbolic. If he had leapt in to space, to dunk a basketball through a cosmic hoop composed a million solar systems, I would have considered it yet another one of his impressive feats - impossible, and thus within his grasp. Maybe God created the universe, but he couldn't dunk on it. Michael Jordan could.
Of course, I'm older now. I don't have posters of athletes in my room, since a lack of idols means a lack of shrines. But I am still watching Michael Jordan, his image displayed before each NBA playoff game. Here he is, switching hands mid-air, tongue out, slicing through the Lakers' defense. And here he is, shrugging, talented beyond even his own comprehension. Once the game starts, I see Kevin Durant hitting the same mid-range jumpers, icing a San Antonio dynasty. And here is LeBron James, his eyes hardened to a killer's stare, suffocating the last breaths of an aging Celtics squad, their desperate flailing no match for his sheer physical dominance. I see them, and I see Jordan. I, and so many others of roughly my age, always will. This is not fair, but it is how things are. We have, in our minds, a template for success, and all that anyone can do is fit comfortably within that. Anything else is called failure.
And make no mistake, the Jordan myth is built on failure. It rests on his fear of it, and the absolute need to overcome it. The zero-sum nature of sport thus dictated that, should he avoid failure, his opponents would drown in it.
I though about al of this today, while holding a washcloth, wiping the coffee stains that had accumulated under my pots. I took out the trash, then the coffee grounds, which our composters hadn't picked up. I made drinks, did inventory, orders, and talked to every customer within range of my voice. I did all of this, enjoying it, and cognizant of the numbers. I thought about how much money we were making, every hour, every day, and how that compared with our nearest competition, and even our past sales. I discussed ways to improve our income, decrease costs, and to counter whatever it was the other guys were doing.
Never mind that we are doing well enough, better than in years past, and better than that other shop. Never mind that, because they still exist, they still function, and they still have the audacity to host an in-house barista competition. I've joked that they should invite me, and that I'd win if they did. Only I'm not joking, even a little. Never mind that I've spoken with the shop's staff, and its manager. They're all really nice, polite people. We've both borrowed supplies from each other, and ultimately, want nothing more than to make good coffee while talking to people.
Only I do want more than that: I want to win. I want to find success, as highlighted by a lack of failure. And for that to happen, someone else has to provide the contrast. I want to win, because it's not everything, but the only thing, the reason why they keep score, and why they play the game. Why make sales if not to out-sell the guy down the street? Why make money if not to make more money than them? I want to win, because I want to be like Mike.