Parable: Haunting Michael Jordan

Imagine, for a moment, that we've been imbued with a supernatural power akin to that of Dickens' "Ghost of Christmas Past"—we're able to step back through someone's personal history with them—and that, for reasons mysterious even to us, we're haunting Michael Jordan, dragging him through his memories.

First, we travel into Jordan's childhood. It's Spring. Jordan is around four or five and standing with his father in front of a basketball hoop. Papa Jordan, ball in hand, has just finished teaching him the rules of the game. In our ghostly radiance, we ask him, "Mikey, what's the point of basketball?"

"To score more points than the other team."

We got what we came for. Moving on, we arrive at our next stop. Me, you, and present-Jordan. Hysterical, he pleads with us, "If ghosts are real then, surely, God is as well? But which God?" Trapped in an anecdote that has already grown too long, we say nothing.

We've travelled to Oct. 5, 1984. It's an NBA game, Jordan's first, and it just ended. Bulls vs Bullets. 109-93. Cornering young adult Jordan, we ask him, "Michael, what's the point of basketball?"

High on a heady cocktail of endorphins and win-induced euphoria, he launches into a speech detailing the intricacies of the sport. Rebound setup. Body language. We glance at each other, bored and wondering why we aren't haunting a celebrity famous for something we posses actual domain knowledge in. Time to move on.

Finally, we return present Jordan to, you know, now. He turns to us, confused. "Mr. Jordan, what's the point of basketball?"

In that moment, he is enlightened. "To score more points than the other team."


Although the child Jordan and the current Jordan both answer our ethereal interrogation with, "To score more points than the other team," only one Jordan is enlightened. Why?

The key is difference is that the answers are produced by different understandings. The child Jordan understands the game on only the roughest level—a limited, partial view. The young adult Jordan, zoomed way in to the specifics of the game, is flawed, too: he can describe it in fine detail but he's lost in that complexity, unable to balance it with the broader perspective. The birth of this integration is the enlightenment moment in our koan.

It's a metaphor— the reasons one has for meditating evolve in the same manner. Which specific fruits of practice strike you as most tantalizing is critically dependent on, well, you. As you change, that changes. Like the Jordans, a meditator cycles through a movement of "this is what meditation is about" to "no, this is what it's really about" to "wait, it's both!", again and again, an endless refinement.

If you have questions, perspective, doubt, or a simple longing for general camraderie, you can communicate with me directly by emailing robert at 99theses dot com. Don't hesitate. Your correspondence is personally enriching.