Contrary to what some may believe, Michael Jordan is not a god. He’s a human being. Maybe one of the most famous human beings to ever walk the planet, but still a human being. And it’s that famous part where we’ll put our focus today, a day in which gymnastics superstar Simone Biles is sadly being torched by many on social media for removing herself from the Olympic team final and opting out of the individual all-around competition to focus on her mental well-being.
Sadly, Biles was in a no-win situation when she opted out of the team competition after just one rotation. It’s your classic “damned if you do and damned if you don’t situation” when you think about it. Had she chosen to continue, she would have been criticized for putting her team’s chances of a medal at risk. But since she chose to withdraw, she’s now labeled by some as a “quitter,” which is absolutely ridiculous. Biles is choosing her mental health over glory and doing all of it with millions upon millions of eyes on her, which should be commended, not ridiculed.
Nobody knows what it’s like to be the face of a sports organization more than Jordan, who completely changed the landscape of the NBA during his run with the Chicago Bulls back in the 1980s and 1990s. I’m not going to go as far as to say that their situations are exactly alike — because they’re not — but surely you see the connection I’m trying to make as there are a lot of similarities with what Biles has had to endure and with what Jordan had to deal with back in the day.
There’s a lot of pressure on professional athletes, especially those at the top of their sport. And the argument I’ve heard in the past is that every single one of them should just suck it up because they’re paid millions of dollars. But money has nothing to do with any of this. Once again, these people are human beings — yes, well-paid human beings — but human beings nonetheless. They feel. They hurt. They cry. They need breaks. Yes, even the great Michael Jordan needed a mental health break. And he did it at the height of his NBA career. And do you know why? Come on, say it with me. Because he’s a human being.
Michael Jordan is arguably the most famous athlete of all time
I think it’s safe to say Jordan is arguably the most famous athlete of all time. In my humble opinion, the only other person that could be considered is Muhammad Ali. Either way, Jordan became a global icon during his glory days with the Bulls and still holds that title today.
But with that title comes a lot of pressure and a lot of attention. Every single move he made was written about in some newspaper or discussed on some sports talk show. And that includes both good moves or what people perceived to be bad moves. Take the time he went to Atlantic City with his father during the Bulls’ 1993 Eastern Conference Finals matchup with the New York Knicks. Jordan was unnecessarily and mercilessly ridiculed for that “stunt.”
And that’s just one of a thousand different examples we could throw out there. It just happens to be one of the most famous instances. It also occurred just a few months before James Jordan was brutally murdered, which is one of the reasons Michael took his mental break.
Jordan took a mental break from the NBA in 1993
As most know, Jordan retired from the NBA for the first time in October 1993, just a few months removed from his father’s murder. As someone who’s lost his father, believe me, I know how difficult that can be. And my dad wasn’t even murdered. And I certainly didn’t have people blaming me for it, which is what Jordan had to do as some journalists irresponsibly tried to connect James Jordan‘s death with Michael Jordan’s gambling, which couldn’t have been easy for MJ to deal with.
But even before his father’s death, Jordan was ready to take a break from the NBA after leading the Bulls to a third consecutive championship in 1993, which he fully admitted during The Last Dance documentary.
“Physically I was exhausted, but mentally I was way past exhausted. When you try to do something repetitively, you lose some of the hunger, and some of the edge.”Michael Jordan
And Jordan had every right to leave. Was it disappointing not to be able to watch him and the Bulls go for four in a row? Sure. I was a teenager living just three hours south of Chicago at this time and it seemed like the worst thing in the world watching him walk away from the game of basketball. But I understood it then and I certainly understand it now. Just as I can understand why Biles is doing what she’s doing.
Again, the situations aren’t exactly the same, but that young woman has been through some tough times in her life and dealt with things I couldn’t possibly comprehend. But I’m supposed to be upset with her? Come on.
MJ admits he might not have survived if he’d played in the social media era
One thing Jordan never had to deal with in his playing days which Biles does is social media. Back in the day, Jordan would only have to take heat from the media and fans lucky enough to get past the screening process on a call-in sports radio show. These days, however, the heat comes from all over the world and, as we all know, everyone has an opinion.
Go ahead and jump on Twitter right now and see how many people are talking about Simone Biles. Can you imagine what it would have been like had Jordan played in today’s NBA? MJ himself doesn’t even want to think about that as he said in a 2020 interview with Cigar Aficionado that he doesn’t know if he could’ve taken it. He likened his situation to yet another athlete who knows what it’s like to carry a sport, Tiger Woods.
“Tiger [Woods] played at his peak somewhere toward the end of my career. Then, what changed from that time frame to now is social media — Twitter and all those types of things. And that has invaded the personalities and personal time of individuals. It’s to the point where some people have been able to utilize it to their financial gain and things of that nature.
“But for someone like myself — and this is what Tiger deals with — I don’t know if I could’ve survived in this Twitter [era], where you don’t have the privacy that you’d want and what seems to be very innocent can always be misinterpreted.”Michael Jordan
Back in Jordan’s day, he was one of the only athletes truly under a microscope at all times. And these days, it seems like everyone is, which is why Biles is sadly taking the heat she’s taking today. Whatever she says or whatever she does in the near future is going to be criticized by someone. And, yes, that is part of being an elite athlete.
But it’s one thing to talk about her performance on the mat or Jordan’s performance on the court and another thing to attack someone’s mental state. Just as nobody knows what’s truly going on in your head, you don’t have any idea what’s going on in someone else’s.
Jordan, of course, came back to the NBA in 1995 and won three more championships with the Bulls. And maybe Biles comes back next week and wins a few medals in the individual events. And maybe she doesn’t. But whatever she decides to do, that’s her choice and she’s going to do what’s best for her, just as Jordan did what was best for him in 1993.