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Michael Jordan's Kobe Bryant eulogy was a gripping tribute

His Airness cried as we cried along with him

Kevin Kaduk
Kevin Kaduk

Hello, frents.

Let’s have ourselves a Tuesday.

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One more gamewinner for MJ

When Vanessa Bryant bravely took the stage at the Staples Center on Monday afternoon, I knew she’d leave it with all of us in tears.

Can’t say I saw the same coming from Michael Jordan.

If you haven’t yet had the chance to watch Jordan’s eulogy at Kobe Bryant’s memorial service, put aside a few minutes this morning. While most of the headlines coming from the speech are focusing on Jordan’s joke about being made into another crying meme, it was the rawness of his emotion that made it a must-watch for me.

Jordan lost the battle against his tears about 30 seconds in and fought them the entire way while trying to explain the relationship he had with his fellow global icon.

“When Kobe died, a piece of me died,” MJ said.

And if your heart didn’t break a little right there, well …

Jordan’s speech was so remarkable because it’s one of the first times we’ve seen him look so human. His playing days ended before reality TV and Twitter were a thing so almost everything we saw from him was a carefully-crafted image from Nike’s marketing execs. Once he retired, Jordan quickly transformed into an owner of both a NBA team and popular shoe brand, two jobs that don’t exactly scream “everyman.”

Even his most vulnerable moment up to this point —  the strange and almost vindictive Hall of Fame speech — was quickly commoditized into an uber-popular but ultimately one-dimensional meme.

Monday’s speech was different, though.

By likening Bryant an annoying younger sibling who grows into a respected and loved equal, Jordan got down on a plane where many of us could instantly relate — even if  our little brothers or sisters didn’t have a legendary jumper that was good as ours.

“At first, it was an aggravation,” Jordan said of Bryant’s late-night phone calls and texts that sought his advice. “But then it turned into a certain passion. He wanted to be the best basketball player that he could be … as I got to know him, I wanted to be the best big brother that I could be.”

Jordan’s speech went to a few different places and what it lacked in oratory eloquence, it made up for in emotional honesty. Gone was the aloof team owner that Jordan has been for the past decade, in was a regular guy from North Carolina who was hurting.

“Everyone always wanted to talk about the comparisons about he and I,” Jordan said. “I just wanted to talk about Kobe.”

As their relationship matured and both men grew older, Jordan admitted to the roles of teacher and student reversing. As both a new grandparent and the father of six-year-old twin girls, Jordan started learning his own lessons from America’s foremost #girldad. He said he looked at Kobe’s efforts on the homefront and started looking forward to coming home and doing the same.

“Kobe gave every last ounce of himself to whatever he was doing,” MJ said.

It was a side of Jordan we rarely see any more.

Sure, there have been moments. Wright Thompson’s epic profile of Jordan at 50 nailed what it’s like for Jordan to be Jordan long after the chase of NBA titles ended. It didn’t look like that great of a place to be.

Neither did the Staples Center podium that he stood behind on Monday. Not only was Jordan mourning the loss of his “little brother,” he was mourning the loss of one of the few people on the planet Earth who could ever know what it’s like to be him.

It was clear he was in pain. For just over 10 minutes, Jordan bared his soul while paying tribute to Kobe, putting himself out there in a way that people of his stature and fame are rarely required.

As Jordan cracked a joke about his tears being turned into another meme, he said he pictured Kobe somewhere laughing about putting Jordan in that spot.

But it’s also likely that Kobe was looking at his ‘big brother’ and feeling pride that Jordan was able to let the public in and grieve along with him.

After all, Bryant’s last great act in life was shedding the Black Mamba persona he donned during his career and showing the world he was human just like the rest of us.

One of his first great acts in death might be doing the same for MJ.

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Monday’s results

Illinois 71, Nebraska 59
The Illini get fat at home against an inferior opponent, now they’ll aim to do the same on the road Thursday night at Northwestern. There’s currently a five-way tie for second place in the Big Ten.

White Sox 2, Dodgers 2
Main takeaway: Yermin Mercedes killed a baseball.

Cubs 16, Mariners 12
Josh Phegley becomes the third Cubs catcher to homer in as many days, Albert Amora maintains strong start with a 3-for-3 day

Today’s schedule

DePaul (+8) at Xavier (6 pm, CBSS, O/U 136.5)
Thunder at Bulls(+6.5) (7 pm, NBC Sports Chicago, O/U 136.5)
Hawks (+175) at Blues (-210) (7 pm, NBC Sports Network, O/U 6)

Spring training
Rockies at Cubs (2:05 pm, Marquee)
Sox (SS) at Indians (2:05)
Giants at Sox (SS) (2:05)

So the Blackhawks pulled off two trades at the deadline. Goalie Robin Lehner was sent to Vegas for a second-round pick, goalie Malcolm Subban and d-man prospect Slava Demin. Erik Gustafsson was traded to Calgary for a third-round pick.

Simply put, the haul sucked. For whatever reason, Stan Bowman didn’t get the payoff most were expecting and it resulted in #FireStan immediately trending on Twitter in Chicago. Mark Lazarus of The Athletic reporting that Lehner told the Blackhawks he’d take a three-year deal for “less money” only to never get an offer just added fuel to the fire.

So onward the Hawks go, once again trying to change a flat while the other three wheels are still moving, unable to plan for any great future without the higher picks we thought Lehner might fetch. Outside of another favorable lottery draw and about 12 things falling into place next season all at the same time, it’s hard to see where the hope for this franchise lies right now.

Are the Cubs on the verge of a full-blown flu outbreak? Manager David Ross missed his third straight day of work with the flu. He was joined by pitcher Jose Quintana, who has been sidelined with the same flu strain.

White Sox manager Rick Renteria said catcher Yasmani Grandal is still “at least a week to 10 days away” from playing. The big free agent signing has been recovering from a left calf strain.

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• Good news: It’s not supposed to snow as much as originally thought today. Tom Skilling has the forecast. (WGN)

• The business for some restaurants in Chinatown are down as much as 50 percent because of coronavirus fears so one man organized a restaurant crawl to help support the business owners on Monday night. (NBC Chicago)

How Tom Brady could help the Bears by not signing with the Bears. (NBC Sports Chicago)

• Lehner’s reaction to his trade was a common one when people learn they’re moving out of the Chicago area. Good thing they ship. (Twitter)

Sam Fels on Stan Bowman being unable to overcome the fear. (Faxes From Uncle Dale)

• Jeremy Jeffress is trying to make the Cubs on a minor-league deal. In related news, I would like to eat at his food truck one day. (Tribune)

Keith Law’s top 100 prospects list is out. The Sox are represented by Luis Robert (No. 6), Michael Kopech (16) and last year’s top draft pick, first baseman Andrew Vaughn (28). Outfielder Brennen Davis (55) and lefty Brailyn Marquez (80) are the picks for the Cubs. (The Athletic)

That’s it for today. Thank you for being a #frentofthenewsletter.

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