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Archive for Tuesday, October 31, 2000

NBA misses Jordan’s good taste

Players’ copying Carter, Payton, Iverson isn’t necessarily a good thing

October 31, 2000

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There's hair all over the NBA these days, which is not necessarily a good thing, except for the barber and the hair-care products manufacturers.

Gary Payton, the All-Star guard of the Seattle Supersonics, has hair.

"I just grew it, and kept it," Payton said. "I didn't go to sleep and say, 'Darn I'm going to grow hair.' I never had any loss of hair. I just kept it bald because it was just the bald look. That was in."

It's not "in" anymore because the man who invented Bald is Beautiful, Michael Jordan, is gone. And the effect of Jordan's exit from the NBA is being felt in ways beyond the excitement be brought to the basketball court.

That was supposed to be the NBA's loss when Jordan retired in 1999. He was still the game's most compelling figure, and his six-time championship team departed along with him. But the loss of Jordan as a basketball player meant far less to the NBA than the loss of Jordan as a role model, although not to fans.

Why are Charles Barkley and Scottie Pippen such devoted golfers these days, putting at risk every American home with a golf-course view?

Why did so many NBA players shave their heads at a time when the airwaves were inundated with commercials for products that promised to grow hair?

Why did NBA players begin to discover pants and jackets could match? It was because of Jordan. It's not just teams that copy championship models on the court. Players are also influenced by success.

So Jordan played golf, and a sport mocked by "real" athletes became a passion. Jordan shaved his head, and the height of several players shrunk by several inches. Jordan wore finely tailored matching suits and the big and tall stores had waiting lines.

And America loved its NBA players, highly skilled, neatly dressed, alligators on their sport shirts and a glint in their eye, as well as their ear from the diamond. Men with earrings even seemed OK.

But all that is changing, and the effect is far more dangerous for the NBA than the prospect of Payton developing dandruff. It's the potential fallout from a new generation being influenced by Allen Iverson, Vince Carter and Payton mocking, sneering, sloppy and angry.

The 2000-01 NBA season opens tonight and the frightening prospects have nothing to do with Halloween. The mask the NBA is wearing is a happy face with a worried look. Tickets aren't selling in Atlanta, Miami, Boston, Detroit, Golden State, Denver, Vancouver and Cleveland. The enthusiasm is waning.

Not the talent. McGrady, as coach Doc Rivers says, is Scottie Pippen at 27. Jordan wished he could jump and shoot like Carter at his age. Kevin Garnett houses 6-footer's skills in a 7-foot body. So does Chris Webber. Bryant has all the Dr. J moves; Tim Duncan has all Bill Walton's

But America grows uncomfortable with the attitude of many NBA players, their disdain for the fan, the way they thumb their nose at convention.

Has anyone ever seen Carter smile? Does Iverson have it as bad as his rap CD suggests? Does everyone have to come to the game in clothes so loose they look like pajamas?

Sure what happens on the court is all that should matter. And sure everyone understands the need for an identity. But the NBA sure misses Michael Jordan, mostly as a role model for its players.

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