I Believe in Windows
Miss me? If you want some Protestant assurance that I'm not abandoning the goal of endless written output, regard The Baseline, or spy on me in coffee shops as I draft chapters of the next book. So yes, the blog lies fallows, but it's not dead, and elsewhere I thrive.
But I did want to drop by my own ghastly quarters to reflect upon something David Falk. That sound a lot like Stalin's Writings: A Critical Perspective. Really though, there's at least one really telling passage in this Washington Times ode to a great man, one who might belong to a bygone era where superstars actually needed agents for all-hands-on-deck negotiating (these days, you can get by with a lawyer once the sneaker contract's set). Regardless, here's the quote that got me thinking:
"Michael Jordan is a very good player. Is he the first best player in basketball history? That's arguable," Boland says. "Is he the first best endorser in basketball history? That's not even a question."
Agents and marketers have copied what Falk refers to as the "Jordan blueprint" - a strategy Tiger Woods, LeBron James and Kobe Bryant have tried to replicate. For all that Falk did to launch Jordan's career off the court, the agent says, "Michael Jordan not only made my career, he made my life.
Kind of boring, I know. But consider this: FreeDarko has long trumpeted on-court action as a function of personality, a symbiotic bond, even. Why wouldn't marketing, or at least public persona, be similarly tied into who players are? Not saying there's a direct correlation, and this might be more about the "how" than the "what." Think about it, though: Maybe Jordan didn't just fit "the blueprint," he was able to inhabit it, because of who he is as a player and as a person. Private, kind of boring, single-minded on the court, a natural at keeping the ferocious murder-mask and Southern gentleman-ly countenance.
Falk made Jordan. Fine. It was a feat of tremendous vision. But, in the same way that Jordan's game allowed for a new dynamism of sneaker marketing, didn't the entire package of grown-up MJ make a particular marketing plan possible? Somehow, this template has been treated as if multiple athletes found it tried-and-true at the same time, despite their differences. When in fact, to imitate this plan with Jordan's (real) personality or (capacity for) persona is to put the cart before the horse.
It was never going to work with Kobe, for the simple fact that Bryant and Jordan could not be further apart as people. Beyond the "intensity on the basketball court" thing. Not coincidentally, I think that Kobe's mature game bears less and less resemblance to Jordan as he's given rein to be his own basketball-industrial complex. LeBron, too, will learn soon. He's funny, outgoing, and mystical in ways Jordan never was. You can't just transpose a strategy that presumes blandness, control, and compartmentalization and assume it makes sense with the player. Tiger, fine, maybe.
Some, most likely those out to murder Kobe Bryant in his sleep, will argue that the young Bryant tried to emulate MJ as a player, as a man, and in ways that went deep enough so as to sync him up with the Falk/Jordan plan. The lesson, though, comes in the fact that eventually it came crashing down, and there were cracks in the fissure well before the rape case.
Marketing is a form of style. Let's just admit that, no matter how corporations may see it, you ultimately can only get so far by expecting an individual to fit a strategic plan crafted in someone else's image. Thus, even on that plane in which the lie is common currency, athletes must be themselves in order to do so in a way that's, well, honest enough to stick.