Living With Fame After the Skill is Gone


Nice piece by Brian Phillips on Pelé and the difficulty of being a retired superstar. Pelé has handled his long retirement basically attacking all-comers–no one is as good as Pelé, with his latest attack focused on the current greatest player in the world, Messi.  Phillips description sounds a lot like Michael Jordan, particularly based on his own hall of fame speech which he used to settle old scores and claim he was still ready to do battle with the current set of NBA all-stars.

Unlike Pelé, Jordan hasn’t just sat around rehashing his success on the speaker circuit; he’s the owner of the Charlotte Bobcats, a team that is threatening to achieve the worst winning percentage in NBA history.  As an owner, and GM before that, Jordan has been consistently horrendous. Only one of his early rivals, Isaiah Thomas, has been able to keep pace with the post-player Jordan’s mistakes in managerial activities.

Shaquille O’Neil, perhaps not quite at the mega level of Pelé and Jordan–he’s not considered the best player of his sport, merely one of the greatest centers of all-time, is struggling with his new job as a TNT commentator. Magic Johnson, another not quite mega, but damn close superstar, has been a lot better–movie theaters, a range of private entrepreneurship, and now a part owner of the LA Dodgers.

At first, I thought Phillips was totally right–it’s got to be a weird life being an ex-superstar, retired sometimes as early as your early 30s. A lot of crazy cats in this crowd–Jim Brown? Check. Joe DiMaggio? Mark Spitz? Check and Check. Barry Bonds. Not retired, right? So many times, I cringe when I hear a respected hall-of-famer make comments about how–now at age 60+, they could still hang with the current stars, or going with the holier-than-thou crap of ‘back in my day, we just worked hard and played clean.’ BS. And if it’s not BS, then boring. I don’t know what’s worse.

But then I looked at the espn top 50 athletes of all time, and there’s lots of guys there who don’t fit the mode. The Great One? He and I aren’t as close as we used to be, but he seems like he’s generally got it together. Man O’ War was a prima donna, but Jerry Rice and Hank Aaron seem stable. And how do we understand a long time nobody like Skip Bayless talking about his high school basketball career like he’s MJ? I work in a profession where no one is as famous as Skip Bayless, and yet lots of people have the egos and self-importance to match Jordan. I’m sure you do, too.


Given all the egomaniacs working in all sorts of life, what’s more interesting are the guys who defy it. Grant Hill. That guy has been a superstar from a very early age, among a few labeled to be the next Jordan, and yet always humble, and willing to stay in the league as a hard-working 4th option years after injuries took away his ability to be an elite superstar. He averaged 27, 7, and 5 in 1999-2000, the year before he got hurt. Could MJ come back and just be a guy who plays great defense, sets picks, rebounds, and basically just plays as part of a team? No way. That’s all about ego; or maybe its all about “confidence”–because it’s only with confidence and personal comfort that you can decline with grace and accept that you are not the star anymore, and yet it can still be fun, challenging, and rewarding to be something different. Grant Hill embodies all of that.

Related, I can’t wait to see the new LCD Soundsystem documentary, Shut Up and Play the Hits, that comes out this summer. This quick video captures what looks to be a great thought piece on fame, life, and meaning, following James Murphy, a guy who succeeded on the late side according to the standards of his industry, and who’s one of the most thoughtful music personalities out there. Also related, how do we explain the career of this man of many names–a man so many times dismissed, and yet staying vital (yes, I’m talking about Sean Puffy/Diddy Combs); this song of his is triumphant–how can you not blast it at 11 and sing along. So is this one by another guy (Dave Grohl) who lost his mentor early on. (You cannot listen to the apex of this song without shouting along with the lyrics and wanting to run someone over with a golf cart.) Maybe dealing with adversity early is the way to really do it late?

Everyone should have entrance music in any walk of life. I like Javy Guerra’s, who nicely deviates the heavy metal norm of baseball closer entrances.

When Heat-Knicks finish, I’ll finish this post…We might very well see a Carmelo photo coming.

But while I’m waiting, in my search for other photos–how about this ode to friendship?


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