Today is Day 45 of the Omer. Tif’eret sheb’malchut. Royal equanimity.
The third day of the week of the week of malchut (kingship), is represented by tif’eret, the aspect of balance or equanimity. Arguably the greatest player of all time, Michael Jordan, won six NBA championships with the Chicago Bulls, earning Finals MVP every time. The Hall of Famers credentials are impeccable: 5x MVP, 10x scoring champ, 9x All-Defensive team, and 1987-88 Defensive Player of the Year. Jordan’s basketball game was the ultimate balance of offense and defense. Over 15 seasons, he averaged 30.1 points, 6.2 rebounds, 5.3 assists, and 2.3 steals/game.
However, if you watched The Last Dance, (which was co-produced by Jordan), then you know that Michael believes in the very tough love approach and does not forgive grudges. As a player, his personality was rarely the embodiment of tif’eret. Too often, he tilted toward gevurah, putting power and judgment before generosity and loving-kindness, even with his teammates.
The exception was when he came back to basketball in 1995. In 1993, exhausted from the 1992 Olympics and three straight trips to the NBA Finals, and still grieving the tragic death of his father, Jordan retired from basketball. He wanted to return to his and his father’s first love, baseball. Jordan donned #45 for the Birmingham Barons, the AA team of the Chicago White Sox. In Birmingham, Jordan found his love for playing sports again. He even played pretty well too.
But thank G-d for the 1994-95 MLB strike, which cast doubt on the 1995 baseball season. Unable to play baseball, Jordan rediscovered his love for basketball and rejoined the Chicago Bulls for the end of the season with a simple fax: “I’m back.”
For 17 games of the 1995-95 regular season and 5 games in the playoffs, Jordan wore #45. His numbers were still All-Star level and he managed to score 55 points against the NY Knicks in MSG, but his timing was off and he wasn’t in basketball shape. After the first game of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, Orlando Magic guard, Nick Anderson said of Jordan, “45 ain’t 23.” He was right. Rejuvenated by his time away and reinvigorated by his love of baseball, Jordan’s time wearing 45 was probably the most balanced period of his career.
Motivated by his loss to Orlando in the 1995 playoffs, MJ came back stronger and more determined than ever. His demanding nature, drive for greatness, and impatience with others led the Bulls to three more NBA championships. It also contributed to the breakup of a dynasty, exhaustion, and his second retirement. There aren’t many times to celebrate Michael Jordan’s career as #45, but on tif’eret sheb’malchut, the moment when NBA royalty embodied equanimity is the perfect one.