Recently, Michael Jordan quietly turned 50. As analysts, old teammates and competitors remember the dominant player he was (or, perhaps, is), they will undoubtedly discuss his dominant playing style, his unrelenting drive and his inhuman ability to constantly sink game winning jump shots. All these aside, though, as the greatest player to ever play the game, Michael’s legacy is founded in his constant desire to better himself and his teammates. Of course, with a résumé that includes 6 NBA championships, 2 Olympic Gold medals and an NCAA Title, it is unsurprising that his image has been found hanging in the bedrooms and gyms of aspiring kids across the country. I don’t know about you, but there is just something about seeing him dunk over Patrick Ewing that makes me want to work on my own game.
In fact, I would be so bold as to say that Michael’s contributions to the game has caused a multitude of kids to want to be “like Mike”. We all need role models and Michael Jordan has certainly been that for countless children. His iconic status has surely inspired greatness in those who have looked up to him. He remains the criterion to which all new basketball stars are compared. David Beckham, the international soccer star wears a number 23 jersey in honor of Jordan. For those Space Jam fans out there, he even inspired Bugs Bunny and the “ToonSquad” to upset the “Monstars.” That being said, while I admire what Michael has done for the game and for children in need of a strong male figure, it begs the question of why we don’t promote our own icons…
If Michael Jordan can find his way into the aspirational imagination of a young ballplayer in the form of a poster, why can’t St. Francis do the same? I’ve heard plenty of young people say they want to be like Michael Jordan, Abby Wambach or Peyton Manning when they grow up. I’ve heard adolescents speak of their admiration for Dr. King, Nelson Mandela or ABC. What I’ve not heard is the following, “I want to be just like St. Benedict when I grow up,” or “When I’m older, I want to be just like Elizabeth Ann Seton.”
The church’s rich history of iconography has had the market on bedroom décor long before “Fathead.com” has. Our icons draw us into meditation on the life of each particular saint, thereby inspiring the same greatness in each of us. Jordan’s Game 6 jump shot certainly inspires me to keep my calm and focus, regardless of how the cards are stacked, but my icon of St. Patrick inspires me to bring the Gospel to where it is so desperately needed. The poster I had of Roger Bannister reminded me that no barrier was out of reach, even a sub-four-minute mile, but my icon of St. George reminds me that running a four-minute mile is nothing if you aren’t doing it for the Lord.
Often I am reluctant to aspire for sainthood. Looking at my life and all its faults, I feel that sainthood is not only out of reach, but foolish to even hope for. St. Ignatius, though, who’s icon hangs in my office, reminds me that if one aspires for sainthood, just as he did, sainthood will indeed be granted. Casting aside worldly fame, St. Ignatius constantly looked to the saints to inspire him to saintly holiness.
Who’s image hangs in your room and what are they inspiring you to do? Standing only 5’7’’, I know that a life like Michael Jordan’s is well beyond my reach (literally), but I love to run, so Sir Roger Bannister remains a fixture. With the help of God’s grace, I know that sainthood is not beyond my reach either, so St. Patrick, St. George and St. Ignatius hang there as well, reminding me that we are all called to sainthood – shepherds, soldiers, and basketball players, too.
Michael Jordan’s legacy has surely impacted me and will continue to do so, but ultimately when I grow up I want to be a saint.
Patrick J. Sullivan is working on his MA in theology at the University of Notre Dame through the Echo Faith Formation Leadership Program and is currently serving in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.