- Michael Jordan: A Biography
David Porter's Michael Jordan: A Biography is a part of the Greenwood Biographies series created at the behest of teachers and public libraries who called for texts that would challenge high school students. The purpose of this series is to provide a detailed narrative of the subject's life from birth to adulthood and to supplement this narrative with a timeline that gives the reader historical context to color significant events in the subject's life.
Porter synthesizes some primary source material with the memories of Michael Jordan and those of former head coaches, Dean Smith of the University of North Carolina, and Phil Jackson of the Chicago Bulls. Porter takes the reader through Michael Jordan's experiences from his struggles in making his high school varsity basketball team and his role as College Freshman in helping Smith to capture his first National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Basketball Championship, to his rise as a National Basketball Association (NBA) superstar. The author also utilizes David Halberstam's Playing for Keeps and Walter LaFeber's Michael Jordan and the New Global Capitalism to gain insight into Jordan's influences off the basketball court. Porter also discusses Jordan's personal trials with gambling, the death of his father, and divorcing his wife of seventeen years and mother of his three children—Juanita Vanoy Jordan. Porter concludes the book with Jordan's experiences in the NBA's Washington Wizards and Charlotte Bobcats front offices as a part owner and President of Basketball Operations. In the final chapter, Porter situates Jordan's legacy within the context of previous NBA legends.
One of the strengths of this biography is that it functions as an orienting text for students who are unfamiliar with the athletic feats and personal trials of Michael Jordan. Perhaps the major strength of this book is the detail with which Porter constructs Michael Jordan's narrative, focusing primarily on pivotal moments in his athletic career. These include winning three consecutive NBA Championships on two separate occasions, six NBA Finals and five regular season most valuable player awards, nine regular season scoring titles (30,000 points), and two Olympic Gold Medals to name a few. Porter utilizes the recollections of franchise owners, teammates, and opponents, giving the reader an intimate glimpse of Jordan's journey.
This text targets high school students; however, it is unclear if the author intended this text for ninth and tenth graders or eleventh and twelfth graders who possess the intellectual maturity to critically engage social issues within sport. There are a few ways in which the text could be bolstered that would be both challenging and accessible to mature high school students. First, the text might be strengthened by adding historical context that gestures toward the external factors that turned Jordan into a global iconoclast. This would have been a wonderful opportunity to introduce the concept of globalization and unpack significance of an African American being used to appeal to global markets—endorsing some of America's most notable transnational organizations such as Nike and McDonalds. [End Page 178]
The text could be strengthened further by avoiding depictions of Jordan's athletic prowess as racially natural. Sport scholars have cautioned their colleagues within and outside of the field of sport studies against describing the abilities of minority athletes, specifically black athletes, as "natural" because it reinforces the stereotype of their being physically adept, but intellectually inferior and lazy. Porter does an excellent job of creating a picture of Jordan's unrelenting work ethic, but at times minimizes this by describing his ability as a basketball player as "innate". For example, Porter noted, "His athletic ability, quickness, offensive creativity, enthusiasm and innate athletic intelligence" was observed by Dean Smith (p. 11). On another occasion the author noted, Phil Jackson limited Jordan's ability to "play instinctively and conflicting with his pure, reactive style" (p. 52). These examples highlight an important oversight because the purpose of the Greenwood Biographies series is to challenge high school students. Thus...