MLK

For a phenom that came to the NBA out of high school and now has three rings to show for it, for a guy that can score at will against anyone and defend a little as well, for a guy that lives in Tinseltown, for chrissakes, Kobe Bryant is not as big a star as he should be. Why don't people like Kobe as much as they should?

Because he was The Man Trying to Replace Michael. And we weren't ready for MJ to be replaced.

It's OK for Tiger Woods to publicly acknowledge that the only person he measures himself against is the equally-loved Jack Nicklaus. But that's because the Golden Bear's run had been over for a while by the time Eldrick brought his prodigious game to Augusta.

When Kobe makes it plain that the only person he measures himself against is Jordan, on the other hand, a platinum hit shits the fan. It's a classic case of prematurely introducing a new product line into the market, when the old one just needed to be re-engineered.

Look at the collective hand-wringing surrounding Michael's comeback. Some people loved it — they wanted a little more Air, but for the Wizards? Others hated it — they didn't want their memories of Jordan to be tarnished by a geezer. Never mind what MJ himself wanted. Do you know of any competitive athlete past their prime who wouldn't give a few months salary to be able to get back onto the court with all the marbles on the line? And we're to deny that of Jordan?

Who the fuck are we?

That's basically the message from Gatorade — albeit more subtly — in its spot featuring the old bald one pulling veteran moves against the fresh-faced flyer: it's OK to let go. We love the old MJ as much as we love the young Air Jordan as much as we love the precocious Tar Heel — and we can keep them all forever.

We need to understand that message, so Michael Jeffrey Jordan can ride off into the sunset on his golf cart. Don't worry: he'll leave behind a career's worth of images and information to never be far from our thoughts and memories again. That's product re-engineering for you.

But now we really will need someone to replace him, though.

Good thing LeBron is coming along at the right time. As long as this kid can play — and if LeBron has balled in MJ's pickup games, then he can play — I would bet that in 50 years he will have a greater legend than Kobe. He has to: the simulacrum precedes him, and that simulacrum is worth big bucks.

Roy Johnson of Fortune magazine (and formerly of Sports Illustrated) wrote an article in 1998 called The Jordan Effect, which suggested that MJ has meant around $10 billion to the economy (a low number in my opinion, but one that's sure to grow in the future). If you buy into the Jordan Effect, then LeBron's simulacrum will be worth around $70 billion in a couple of decades.

Or else.

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