Dave Hannigan: Michael Jordan can’t shake competitive streak for quiet game of golf
NBA legend is golf-mad and has thrown a very public strop over slow play
Michael Jordan is a legendarily impatient character. Photograph: Andrew Redington/Getty Images
At the height of his career with the Chicago Bulls, Michael Jordan had three golf holes carved out of the backyard of his mansion in Highland Park, Illinois. Two decades later, his place in the pantheon as the greatest NBA player by then secure, he started to turn up inside the ropes at Ryder Cups; part hanger-on, part very famous, oversized cheerleader, all golf addict. Against that background, and with a net worth estimated to be north of $1 billion, it’s hardly surprising he now wants to build his own course in Florida. The reason why though is classic Jordan.
Reports suggest the 52-year-old is so unhappy at members of The Bear’s Club in Jupiter not playing fast enough and, crucially, not allowing him to play through, that he’s bought a plot of land nearby and started talking to architect Tom Doak about his vision for it. If irritation at the pace of play is hardly a shocking complaint from a legendarily impatient character, one notorious for trying to pack 36 rounds into every outing, it’s worth mentioning this is no ordinary club. These are not duffers likely to be cowed by a rich celebrity heckling them to get a move on.
Indeed, Rory Mcllroy, Luke Donald and Ernie Els are among the select few who have paid $350,000 (€308,000) initiation fees and $25,000 annual dues to play at a track founded and designed by Jack Nicklaus. Jordan’s nearby home cost $12 million and, for that money, he obviously expected a place where his need for speed would be respected more. He expected wrong and, apparently, there have already been a few acrimonious greenside encounters where Jordan has reminded groups in his way exactly why he possesses the sharpest tongue in basketball history.
Of course, his trash-talking reputation precedes him wherever he goes. It’s not that long ago since he denounced Barack Obama as “ . . . a hack . . . a shitty golfer.” Golf-mad Obama’s not exactly statesmanlike response was to admit Jordan is far better than him before putting that in some context.
“Of course, if I was playing twice a day for the last 15 years, then that might not be the case,” he said, referencing Jordan’s well-known obsession with the sport. “He might want to spend more time thinking about the Hornets.”
The last line was a pointed jab at Jordan’s day job. Although a lot of Americans now mostly recognise him from commercials and highlight reels, he’s also the majority owner of the Charlotte Hornets. Not one of the NBA’s most storied franchises and not a role in which he’s distinguished himself so far.
On the fringes
That realisation must be very difficult for an uber-competitor like Jordan and, inevitably, the frustrations of his post-playing career have, rightly or wrongly, created a public image of him as an ornery character or, as one website put it recently, “a miserable bastard”. Since he hung up his eponymous Air Jordans in 2003, the portrait has often been of a man struggling to properly enjoy the next phase of an epic life.
He spent most of his speech at his induction into basketball’s Hall of Fame back in 2009 taking potshots at long-forgotten bit-part players who crossed him on his way up. At a ceremony normally characterised by bonhomie, nostalgia and graciousness, the tone and tenor of his remarks were strangely begrudging and almost resentful. The winning smile that sold the world over-priced sneakers and so many other products suddenly seemed a little less effervescent and a lot more forced.
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“Republicans buy sneakers too!” he supposedly and very famously commented when asked to endorse a Democratic candidate many years ago. This latest episode shows that he remains an athlete who steadfastly refuses to take political stances, for fear any controversy might damage the marketability of the brand.
In this instance, his disinterest looks all the worse given how many contemporary NBA stars have made very pronounced, very public gestures of support to that particular cause over the past few months. A cynic might say Jordan has important battles of his own to fight with the ponderous plutocrats hindering his enjoyment of a round of golf.
The Wall Street Journal recently trawled newspaper archives to find how often individuals were described as “the Michael Jordan of . . . ” something. They discovered over 6,000 different instances where his name was used to illustrate excellence, in worlds as diverse as hurling, yodelling, and elephant-hunting. Should his bespoke plans to make that sliver of overpriced real estate in Florida available exclusively to him and his entourage come to pass, “the Michael Jordan of golf course ownership” might yet be. . . Michael Jordan.