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Rebound: The Odyssey of Michael Jordan

By Bob Greene

(Viking)

Maybe I have this all wrong. Maybe I've been thrown off by the first-person format of Bob Greene's writing. Could it be that he has created a character? A thick midwestern yokel chewing on a piece of straw and speculating on the big confusing world? Is it an act? Or could Bob Greene really be that dumb?

These thoughts kept returning to me as I read Rebound, Bob's second hagiography of Michael Jordan. Bob's first book on Jordan, Hang Time, eclipsed Lives of the Saints. This time out, Jordan leaves basketball, tries baseball, then returns to basketball, while Bob dogs his steps like a pull-toy duck.

Bob starts out by dismissing any information about Jordan that doesn't come from first-person interviews. He spurns basic journalistic research--what he calls "arm's-length analysis, gleaned from nameless sources and third-party observers." It's an obvious shot at Tribune writer Sam Smith, whose two tell-all biographies of Jordan have been published at the same time as Bob's tell-almost-nothing books. Nature could not permit a view as fawning as Bob's to come into being without its antipode.

Then Bob tries giving his own narrow scope a moral justification. "I have never felt confident passing on a version of events unless I was present," he preaches, as if he doesn't pee away most of his columns reprinting letters and small-town newspaper items.

Mike never gambles in front of Bob, never says an unkind word. He certainly never embarrasses lesser teammates by refusing to pass to them in the last minutes of a game, as Smith has described. So according to Bob's methodology, such things never occur. With Bob on his knee, Jordan just muses ponderously on himself.

Jordan is frequently obscured anyway as Bob blocks him out, filling our field of vision with his own fetishes. Bob hears Beach Boys music. He pities a child who has to use oxygen, praising his courage as if breathing unassisted is the coward's way. Elvis is invoked three times. Bob spends a page boosting his own novel.

Fame mesmerizes him. Bob just can't get over television. Again and again he digresses about how the world is "wired and linked up, the hardware of international communications ready to take anything [Jordan] says and disperse it across the globe in an instant." And on and on.

Remember that mope in the Chevrolet commercial who didn't buy a Blazer and was left dreaming of blissful moments sharing a paddleboat with Jordan? Bob is worse, constantly trying to prove to the world that he and Mike are buddies. Bob and Mike, driving, lost, arguing like an old married couple over directions. Bob and Mike, looking at the Manhattan skyline, wondering which building is the Empire State Building (neither has any idea). Bob and Mike, hanging out at a secluded luxury home, where Jordan falls asleep and Bob shamelessly ogles him: "His bare right leg draped off the side of the couch, bending onto the carpet; his eyes were closed, his mouth was wide open. He was breathing deeply, his head tossed back. He seemed as vulnerable, as absent of defenses, as a man could ever be." I half expected Bob to drop his trousers.

But then admitting that would take candor, and Rebound doesn't have an honest moment in it. As for Michael Jordan--one question: If he's so cool, why is he hanging around with Bob Greene?

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Jeff Heller.

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