I remember when the enemy was the enemy. He was the guy on the other side of the court or the field or the ice. Couldn't miss him. Tail, horns, pitchfork. Hygiene issues.<!--dropend-->
Athletes now pledge allegiance to shoe companies and wave the flag for agents. Rather than want to give the guy across the way an elbow he'll never forget, they want to give him a secret handshake.
Thus it was so refreshing to read that Michael Jordan never would have considered joining forces with Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. Jordan said he was so busy trying to defeat Bird and Magic that it wouldn't have occurred to him to try to form a super team with them, had he been given the chance.
It was impossible to mistake friend and foe to Jordan.
''There's no way, with hindsight, I would've ever called up Larry, called up Magic and said, 'Hey, look, let's get together and play on one team,' '' he said. ''But that's ... things are different. I can't say that's a bad thing. It's an opportunity these kids have today. In all honesty, I was trying to beat those guys.''
Not so with the Three Pigs, who are too busy being best friends forever to match the competitive fire that roared through Jordan. LeBron James and Chris Bosh took advantage of free agency to join Dwyane Wade in Miami, forming a veritable All-Star team. Perhaps you've heard that news.
Leave it to Michael to capture the essence of competition: The idea is to beat the other guy, not become his pal.
When highly competitive people play against each other over and over again, a healthy dislike often kicks in. Jordan didn't call Bird to make dinner plans after games. He didn't consult Johnson before playing the stock market. He wouldn't give Isiah Thomas anything, including the time of day. Knowing it was personal between Jordan and Thomas was part of the fun.
Now all of this might sound like grumpy, old men pining for the old days. But the show is better when you know the conflict is real. Otherwise, it's pro wrestling.
Say this about Kobe Bryant: He doesn't appear to have a friend in the world when he's on the court. Off the court, he appears to have double that number.
Respect is one thing; friendship that transcends team loyalty is another. Jordan had respect for Bird and Magic. But they had what he wanted, and diplomacy wasn't going to relieve them of it.
Part of what we're seeing with the Heat is the direct result of AAU ball. The best high school players seek each other out to form dominant travel teams in the summer. Through the common bond of superior talent, they become friends. They become friends with other teams' stars, too. Cell-phone calls and text messages allow them to stay in contact year-round. They are just as likely to be close friends with someone who lives 100 miles away or 1,000 miles away as they are with high school teammates.
Enemies are becoming an endangered species, and it's sad. There's entirely too much hugging going on at your typical sporting event. It looks like a kindergarten graduation ceremony. I'm not condoning bad sportsmanship here, but reasonable boundaries are being trampled.
If you look closely at Jordan's comments about Bird and Magic, you'll notice that, for a moment, he chalks up the James-Wade-Bosh merger to the times. That hesitation, that flexibility, comes from being the majority owner of the Charlotte Bobcats. It comes from being a guy who would love to have three superstars on his team.
The real Michael Jordan knows that LeBron, et al., should they win multiple championships, will have taken advantage of the system to do it. There will be hard work involved, sure. But when the history is written, it will be a story of three buddies using free agency to a degree no one had before. It won't be about sacrifice.
The degree of difficulty between what MJ and the Bulls accomplished with their six championships and what the Heat might accomplish won't be close.
''Accomplish'' is the key word here. What's the accomplishment in pooling your abilities with two other superstars' abilities? Showing that the free-market economy works? That it's possible for three special players to mesh their talents into one indomitable team? Who knew it could be done?
The desire to be the best fueled Jordan, and that meant no shortcuts. What's going on in Miami is the biggest shortcut in history. There's a big difference between Jordan's will to win and LeBron's coalition to win.
One man targeted the enemy for destruction. The other reserved the VIP room for all his friends, regardless of uniform.
If you put Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie and Jennifer Aniston in a movie, would it win an Oscar for Best Film? Probably not, but there's a decent chance it would be a top-grossing movie. That's what this Miami production is. We'll call it, ''The Three Pigs Go to Market.''
Jordan has seen the enemy. He just won't call it what it is.