In the 1990s, people in Argentina spent their life savings to come see Michael Jordan play basketball. Folks from Taiwan would save years, then take a 24-hour trip, just to see “His Airness.” Wherever Michael went, people were queuing to look at him, talk to him, even touch him, hoping his greatness would literally rub off on them. It was as if Jesus himself was walking the earth.
Others tried to tap into Jordan’s fame a little differently: They published books about his ruthless discipline with colleagues and his gambling habit, spread dark rumors about his father’s murder in the papers, or tried to goad him into making sensationalist statements.
What nearly all Michael Jordan fans had in common, however, is that they chased a sliver of MJ instead of owning 100% of themselves. They’d rather shake Michael’s hand than make it to the NBA, because even though it feels similarly impossible, that’s a much easier way of checking off their basketball dreams.
Meanwhile, Michael himself never cared for fame to begin with. He only wanted to do one thing, his thing: play basketball.
Basketball is the only language Jordan spoke, and that’s why, through fame and speculation, through derision and mockery, basketball is how Jordan responded to whatever the world had to say about him. When he was cut from the varsity team in high school, he practiced all summer. When the Bulls won their first championship, he went right after the second one. And when the media mocked him over a casino visit with his dad the night before a playoffs game, he stopped giving interviews and started demolishing his opponent.
Whether they try to take it in good faith or in bad, everyone wants a piece of the people who are doing their own thing. But you only get one life — your life. So don’t be a fame chaser. Be more than a fan. Do your own thing.
Your thing might not be basketball. It could be pencil sketches, making beats with a saxophone, or organizing car meetups. You don’t have to take it as far as becoming a walking icon for it to matter, but life flows best when you’re speaking your own language, not trying to catch a few words of someone else’s — no matter how beautiful it may sound.