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Rabbi Daniel Cohen

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Is It the Shoes or the Soul? In Honor of Air Jordan on his 50th

Posted: 02/15/2013 3:01 pm

I had a dream. Like most kids growing up playing hoops, I wanted to fly.

Growing up in Atlanta in the '70s and '80s, we played a lot of pickup basketball games in our driveway and in leagues at our local community center. I wondered -- were it the sneakers Dr. J wore that elevated him from the foul line to the hoop.

As a small point guard playing for our high school team, I often tried the reverse lay-up and mustered my inner wings to stay afloat amidst a couple of defenders. Into the '90s, we marveled at Michael Jordan's hang time. Wow! Shaking our heads in disbelief, he took the game to a new level. He defied the laws of gravity and tapped into an innate desire of all of us to stay up in the air a little bit longer... to fly.

As the congratulatory wishes come in to mark the 50th birthday of Michael Jordan, one the greatest basketball players of all time, I am struck by the iconic image of MJ in flight and what it represents for all of us. The first commercial for Air Jordan starred Michael and Spike Lee who played Mars Blackmon. Spike intoned "It is the shoes" in his classic commercial and MJ denied it, the Nike commercial ends with a clarification: The views of Michael Jordan's opinions do not reflect the views of Nike etc.

Whether we wear Air Jordan or not, Michael awakened within many people the lost art of jumping a little bit higher. It is a message beyond the court but for life.

Taking flight or achieving "hang time" speaks to the possibility of reaching beyond our current potential. The nature of a child is to jump. I remember as a kid walking along the sidewalk and leaping in the air to try and touch a passing branch or awning. Could I touch the sky?

As we grow older, we tend to define ourselves and limit our potential. The past determines our future rather than realizing that the current moment offers new horizons. In truth, the act of jumping itself stirs our spirits. As Philippe Houseman commented about his Jump Book, which photographs celebrities "in flight," when you ask a person to jump, his attention is mostly directed toward the act of jumping and the mask falls so that the real person appears."

Jewish mysticism teaches that we should live life a few inches off the ground. Take flight every day. Make a difference in someone's life. Aspire to personal greatness.

Happy Birthday Michael! Thanks MJ for rekindling the idea that people can fly. Hang time is holy time.

 

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