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An excerpt from “Failure to Fail,” the Michael Jordan autobiography

I stared at the rim with anticipation, willing the ball to strike and ricochet away from it, but of course it didn’t. Swish. Another two points. Another record broken. The story of my life. I could never get it right.

I first remember it happening in elementary school, probably second grade. I’d played basketball with my brothers before, though we just horsed around and I didn’t even enjoy it much. But there were my peers, down one player to make it a game, so I got recruited. I was reluctant to join in at first, figuring I wouldn’t be very good at the game, but then I realized this was my chance. Daddy had always called me a failure and here was my opportunity to prove him right. All I had to do was trip all over the court and throw up some bricks and I was sure to prove him right, get him to love me.

That’s not what happened, obviously. I wove around defenders, thinking I’d get my legs entangled with theirs. I dribbled between my legs and behind my back, assuming the ball would skitter away and the kids would laugh at me. I chucked the ball blindly at the backboard, knowing the shots would sail wide or clang back to the ground at awkward angles. Yet the more I tried to choke, the more success I had. The spin moves worked, the ball always bounced back to me however I dribbled it, and every off-balance shot went in with ease. I couldn’t miss! It was awful.

Once I realized my predicament, I did what I could to hide this flaw in myself, but word got around the schoolyard quickly in the next few days and everyone wanted to see me on the court. Even the gym teacher became curious and had us play a game in our class the next week. I can remember him openly whooping when I drove the lane and made a layup that I was trying to airball. How could this be happening to me? All I wanted was to make my father proud by being the loser he kept telling me I was, and now I couldn’t help but do the opposite. There were multiple times I had to fight back tears throughout the day, thinking about having to go home and face him.

He downplayed it, of course, telling me how proud he was of me, but I knew it wasn’t true. Daddy’s favorite was always my older brother James, and that never changed regardless of the accolades I’d go on to receive. My father didn’t even like basketball. So while on the outside it looked like he was thrilled by watching me out there on the floor, it was always a fantasy. All through my high school, UNC and Chicago Bulls years, I kept trying harder and harder to blow it, to make all the highlight reels and commercials and trophies meaningless. If I could just truly screw the pooch out there, maybe he could finally stop pretending that his son was talented.

But no matter how much effort I put into botching my stats and every game, I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t lose. Maybe I should have stuck with baseball all along, because everyone at least agreed I was truly terrible at that.

Categories: death
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