Well, in the case of Michael Jordan's 50th birthday, memories suffice.
These 50 anecdotes and memories — even some nightmares — do the same. Consider them candles, flickering symbols of recognition and respect from those who know Jordan well.
Jerry Reinsdorf, Bulls chairman since 1985
First day of spring training in '93. Walt Hriniak, who was our crusty batting coach, was convinced that this whole thing of Michael playing baseball was a publicity stunt. He told me a couple of times over the winter that he didn't want anything to do with it. The first day, he walked up to Michael — and Walter led the league in F-bombs — and said, "What the F is all this about? Is this a publicity stunt? Are you serious?'' Michael said to him, "I'm dead serious.'' So Walter said, ''All right, meet me at 7:30 a.m. at the cage.'' Every morning, at 7:30, Michael was there, hitting with Walter. He hit to the point sometimes his hands were bleeding. If you talk to Walter today, he'll tell you Michael was the hardest-working and most dedicated athlete he ever has known.
Jerry Krause, Bulls general manager from 1985 to 2003
We're in Phoenix in his second or third year. He has this huge, blood-filled swelling on one of his feet. The Phoenix team doctor, Paul Steingard, has to lance it. Blood and puss fly all over the table. … MJ begs (coach) Doug Collins to let him go to Houston the next night. … Doug and I confer, knowing the amazing recuperative powers MJ had — and Michael starts in on me. We decided to let him make the trip and we would protect him. If memory is correct, he got 52 or something like that. His pain threshold was unreal.
Dominique Wilkins, Hall of Fame Hawks forward
One game I scored 50, maybe 57, in Atlanta. I remember going back to Chicago and he scored 60. He took it a little personal. And the way he scored 60 was incredible. We put everybody on him but the kitchen sink but couldn't stop him. Couldn't stop him. Assassin. That's what he was. Probably the most competitive and feared guy I have ever played against.
David Falk, Jordan's longtime agent
The first summer following his rookie year, Michael comes to my house in Washington and notices that I have a Pac-Man machine in my rec room. He looks and me and says: "Can you play?'' We play a couple of games and I crush him. He says, ''Let's play again.'' I'm playing and I have the joystick and he screams: ''Look out! Look out!'' He distracts me and I get eaten. I turn to him and say, ''MJ, do I talk while you're playing?'' He looks at me and says: ''No, but I'm gonna win the next game''
Kobe Bryant, All-Star Lakers guard
Aside from all the stuff he has done on the court, the biggest thing — even beyond his athleticism and flashy game — was how fundamentally sound he was. As a young kid growing up watching that, that's the thing that I saw. I saw his ability to get to the basket to make all these flashy plays.
LeBron James, All-Star Heat forward
I've got so many memories of MJ. Name it. From the shoes to him flying through the air and switching hands against the Lakers to him hitting 3s versus the Blazers to him being on the TV screen with Bugs Bunny to him jumping over buildings in the suit in the commercials to him swinging a baseball bat or hitting a golf ball to him having a cartoon. MJ was an inspiration to me. He has done so many great things for our sport, so many great things for sport in general.
Reggie Miller, Hall of Fame Pacers guard
The one that stands out — and I mentioned it in my Hall of Fame speech — was the first time I faced him, which was an exhibition. We were in one of those obscure places, a neutral-site game. … I was a rookie. It was Chuck Person's second year. As most veterans do, they go through the motions. I was a jacked-up rookie, going 100 percent. Chuck, where I get all my talking from, was getting me all hyped up, saying, "You're killing Jordan.'' End of the half, I have 10. Jordan has eight. Chuck was telling me to talk mess to Michael. He was saying, ''You're the new guy. You're going to be all that.'' Michael just looked at me. In the second half, the real Michael Jordan came out. I think he ended up with 45 points. I had 12, just two after half. He looked at me and I was like, "OK, now I get it.''
George Karl, Nuggets coach, Sonics coach during 1996 NBA Finals