Ken Newton FB image

Along with mourning, anxiety, loneliness in our isolation and uncertainty about the future, the coronavirus has given us, in small measures, a variety of well-meaning catchphrases and an appetite for sports documentaries.

In this former category, I note the “At Home Together” slogan, an accolade of self-achievement that has become a much-used hashtag on social media, intended to point out global unity in our individual quarantines.

Sitting in the close quarters of my at-home workspace, I’ve never felt so “at one” with celebrities reclining at poolside.

As for the latter, I have become involved in “The Last Dance,” the 10-part documentary on ESPN focusing on Michael Jordan and his Chicago Bulls teams.

This program sent me on something of a scavenger hunt, chased by only a vague recollection that I had taken a picture of Jordan early in my career. (Isolation adds time to indulge in such whimsy.)

Sure enough, I found the photograph in a newspaper I worked for in 1982. The image showed Jordan, then in his second year at North Carolina, squared up along the sideline in a game against Missouri at the Checkerdome in St. Louis.

Of course, Jordan already had become a big deal, hitting just eight months earlier a key shot against Georgetown that helped the Tarheels win a national championship.

But the subject of the photograph, the guy guarding Jordan, was Ron Jones, an MU player who had a great career with Norm Stewart and who came from Cape Girardeau, a local fellow playing big-time basketball.

The person who would in ensuing years would become known as His Airness just happened to step into the frame.

(For the record, Missouri won the game 64-60.)

One part of Jordan’s personality plays out above all others in “The Last Dance.” He could hold a grudge on a championship level.

Every perceived slight became a festering grievance, which in turn drove him to some athletic success. NBA rival Isiah Thomas, future teammate Toni Kukoc, the Bulls’ general manager, the guy trying to get Jordan to wear Reebok gear at the Olympics. All villains.

Spite seemed to be a driving force in propelling Jordan’s greatness. Hey, no one ever paid money to read a psychological study of the man. Folks did buy plenty of game tickets, Air Jordan shoes, Gatorade and so forth. What works, works.

Skip ahead 20 or years, and who does this sound like?

Maybe the chap who on Monday called a persistent critic “Psycho Joe.” And the critic’s wife “Crazy Mika.” And various political opponents “SleepyCreepy Joe” and “Crooked Hillary” and “Lyin’ Ted” and “Low Energy Jeb” and “Little Marco.”

President Trump uses ugly nicknames with all the dexterity of an eighth-grader.

As an act of bipartisanship, more than half of these are targets are Republicans.

Over the weekend, former President George W. Bush and his Presidential Center issued a video extolling “empathy and simple kindness” as attributes used to get Americans through these times of pandemic.

Trump’s response to the message by one of his predecessors, a fellow Republican, was a tweet that read: “He was nowhere to be found in speaking up against the greatest Hoax in American history!”

Some people do best when they have a foil, a boogeyman upon which they can compare themselves. For Jordan, it proved a motivator. For the president, it becomes a sales job.

Only thing is, Jordan could use his enormous talent and force of will to get the ball through the basket. President Trump must rely on others casting votes.

It worked before. This November will show whether it can work again.

Ken Newton’s column runs on Tuesday and Sunday. Follow him on Twitter: @SJNPNewton.