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There have been odder couples. Dennis Rodman and Kim Jong Un. Kim and Kanye. Felix and Oscar.
And yet, the grossly unlikely thread that now ties Michael Jordan to Lance Stephenson is as compelling for just how much the two may have in common as anything else. Arguably His Airness and Born Ready are the preeminent competitors of their time. Quick now, name five players from either of their eras who went at opponents any harder than the now joined-at-the-hip legend and his soon-to-be, up-and-coming prodigy are at least partly saluted for.
“He told me what he likes about me, he told me what I need to calm down on,” Stephenson told the Charlotte Observer of his mano mano rap session with the seemingly always composed Jordan prior to either man being completely willing to commit himself to the other. “He told me how I can contribute to the team. And he told me he believed in my talent. He likes my competitive edge.”
But even with the G.O.A.T in his ear, is there anyone willing to go on the record in forecasting a happily after ever for the largely unpredictable Stephenson? You can argue he had a similar setup in Indiana, where the almost equally legendary Larry Bird sought to take the 23-year-old rising star under his wing, only to witness his total implosion during the Eastern Conference Finals when the starstruck NYC playground legend regressed to the point of blowing not-so-sweet nothings in the ears of a totally channeled LeBron James.
“I bring more to the table than blowing in someone’s ear,” Stephenson rightfully told reporters of his meltdown at the feet of The King. Still, some will tell that scene now rates as veteran swingman’s signature NBA moment. Such is the riddle of Lance Stephenson, a talent so brilliant and conversely erratic he somehow led the league in triple-doubles during the same season he posted a player efficiency rating far below even the most basic of league standards.
“When I’m on the court I don’t have friends,” countered Stephenson “I’m all about business and all about winning. I’m definitely going to try to be a leader on this squad, and bring winning habits here.”
Hornets coach Steve Clifford perhaps captured the essence of Stephenson best when he reasoned many of his virtues have at times morphed into some of his biggest vices.
“What’s the old saying? ‘Your greatest strength is also your greatest weakness,'” said Clifford. “I think those things are a byproduct of the fact that he badly wants to win. To be honest, that is one of the things we all liked about him so much.”
And now, His Airness is seeking to harvest all those emotions, refine and refurbish a talent still so raw and at times reckless he rated third in all the NBA in technical (17) last season and engaged in a practice brawl with teammate and key reserve Evan Tuner on the eve of the playoffs.
But Jordan and Stephenson are now part of the same team, and at a time when both need each other more than any of Hoops Nation probably could ever imagine. His Airness seems almost obsessed in leading his Hornets to the next level in their NBA ascension, while Stephenson seeks to use MJ’s grand stage to become the star he’s always boasted of being.
The ride could get bumpy, but the show almost certainly won’t lack in drama.
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