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Jordan's 'Driven' is a road map

THE BALTIMORE SUN

I was not yet 2 when Michael Jordan hit the winning basket for North Carolina to win the 1982 national championship.

I was 10 when he won his first NBA title with the Chicago Bulls.

I don't remember a time when Jordan was not considered the best to ever play basketball.

My older brother would watch in awe as Jordan floated through the air for a dunk. He'd say, "You have to watch this because you may never see someone do this again."

At the time, I just assumed he meant his ability to make plays that no one else could. Now, I realize it was more than that. It was how Jordan defined an era with class, grace and drive.

Jordan's recent book, Driven From Within, provides a window into what motivated him to achieve his legendary status.

Jordan's accomplishments no doubt make him one of the greatest athletes ever to play basketball. And although his talent helped him get through the door, his work ethic and dedication raised him to a level no one had ever seen.

Work ethic is something that doesn't get praised often in professional sports and is often overshadowed by statistics, shoe contracts, and even rap videos.

I have become disillusioned with pro athletes who cry over not making as much money as the next guy. I can't stand that they feel entitled to something they haven't earned.

"Today, players receive the rewards before they prove their worth. ... The big NBA contract comes with the big shoe contract. With those contracts come national commercials. With that kind of notoriety comes expectations, some of which are bound to be out of proportion to the player's experience and ability," said Jordan in his book.

Professional athletes in general are younger and even more inexperienced. They are given so much money and fame in anticipation of reaching their full potential - many of them never do.

For example, when the Washington Wizards drafted Kwame Brown, they thought they found their franchise player. In 2001, he was the first high school player ever selected with the first overall pick in the NBA draft. He proved to be a huge bust on and off the court.

"At Washington, Kwame Brown said I was hard on him, and I was because I never believed he had ever tried to push himself. He had developed bad habits, and I don't believe in bad habits," explained Jordan in his book.

Brown proved Jordan's instincts correct. He never lived up to his potential in Washington and isn't doing much worth mentioning with the Los Angeles Lakers.

"Our culture needs to see examples. You can hear about how somebody played, or read about the best way to achieve success, but people need to see examples," Jordan said.

Many consider LeBron James as being that next great example - the heir to Air Jordan.

Before being the top overall pick in 2003, he already had a multiyear shoe contract worth more than $90 million with Nike. When Jordan signed his initial contract with the shoe company in 1984, it was for $2.5 million over five years.

James has done a solid job of leading by example so far, but I have a problem putting my faith in a kid just 21. I did that once with Kobe Bryant.

There are many examples and memories that Jordan left. Can anyone forget Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals? Jordan scored 38 points against Utah while battling the flu.

Today, many players are out for several weeks with an ankle sprain.

Jordan wrote: "Tomorrow's kids are going to have to see someone playing hurt, see someone practicing the day after winning a championship. ... If we lose that gap, then it starts to fade away, and 20 years from now you will never see someone play sick, or get out on the floor with a sore ankle."

Jordan's book is an inspiration. Though parts of it are a glaring advertisement for his new sneaker, it is still an insightful look at his life on the court and as an entrepreneur. He demonstrates what it's like to be a true professional in a business that could use more class acts.

I think I will pick up a new pair of Air Jordans for my brother tomorrow.

marybeth.kozak@baltsun.com

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