Michael Jordan, the Detroit Bad Boys, & Perspective
I grew up in Michigan at a great time to be a budding sports fan: the Detroit Tigers won the World Series in 1984 and went to the American League Championships in 1987; the Detroit Pistons went to the NBA Finals in 1988 and won back-to-back championship in 1989 and 1990; and the University of Michigan "Fab Five" basketball team went to consecutive NCAA championships in 1992 and 1993 (though they lost both). The Detroit Red Wings dominated hockey in the late '90s, but by then all I cared about was music and misguidedly believed that meant I couldn't also enjoy sports. C'est la vie.
I'll still gladly wear my Tigers cap, but my heart lies with the Detroit Pistons of the Bad Boys era. The Pistons of the mid- and late-'80s were one of the top defensive teams in the NBA, and one of the most physical. The team earned a reputation for hard fouls and opposing teams showed up ready to fight.
The most hated of the Bad Boys were undoubtedly Bill Laimbeer and Rick Mahorn. They talked trash, set hard screens, and took special joy in rattling opposing players. Laimbeer and Mahorn didn't mind the boos from fans in other cities – they seemed to feed off that energy.
Michael Jordan was the best player of the 1990s, winning all six NBA championships in which he competed. It's said that history is written by the winners, and the Bad Boys feature prominently as villains in Jordan's "hero's journey".
There's a famous clip from a January 1988 game against the Chicago Bulls in which Mahorn grabs Jordan from behind to prevent a lay-up. It was obvious and physical, but – though Jordan later claimed that Mahorn was trying to end his career – it was not actually a particularly hard foul. Jordan is on his feet a second later, ready to fight, along with Charles Oakley, most of the Bulls bench, and even members of their coaching staff. It's a wild scene.
But, as with most things in life, one's perspective shaped by when you start paying attention and what story you want to believe.
If you start the clip with Mahorn's foul on Jordan, you see a bully picking on an emerging star. But start watching about 3 seconds before Mahorn's hard foul and you'll see Jordan pushing Pistons guard Joe Dumars to the ground while positioning for a rebound. From that perspective, you might conclude that Mahorn was sticking up for his teammate – by not letting the bully get away with it.
So which perspective is correct? Either, depending on when you start paying attention and the story you want to believe. If Jordan is the hero, then Mahorn is the villain. But if Jordan knocking down Dumars was the catalyst for the confrontation, then Mahorn was simply stepping in to right a wrong.
Jordan was a rising star in a league in which physical contact – including hard fouls – was business as usual. (In fact, there were no specific penalties for hard fouls at that time; the flagrant foul rule wasn't introduced until the 1990-91 season.) But he became a legend precisely because he persevered through that rough and physical period in the NBA. If he had given up, if the demands were too much for him, we might not even remember his name.
I'm an investor – though I don't aspire to be "the Michael Jordan of money" or anything like that. I simply want to build a better future for myself and investing is one of the most reliable ways for ordinary people to build wealth over long periods of time. But investing for the long-term requires enduring a lot of unpleasant emotions along the way. It feels bad to watch account values decline, even with a long-term focus and high conviction.
Again, though, perspective is a matter of when you start paying attention and the story you want to believe.
If we look at stock market performance since the start of 2022, it's been pretty disappointing. The S&P 500 was down almost 9% during the first two months of the year, and the first few days of March haven't been any better (I'm writing this on the morning of 08 Mar 2022). But if we zoom out a little – if we change when we start paying attention – a different picture emerges.
Over the past year, the S&P 500 has returned about 9.9%. If we zoom out five years, the return is 77%. And if our frame of reference starts ten years ago, the return is about 360%!
The story you want to believe is equally important. Is the recent stock market downturn a catastrophe, a career ender? Do sinister forces conspire to prevent you from the life you want? Or is it just business as usual in a volatile and uncertain arena? Is short-term uncertainty and discomfort simply the price of admission in order to see life changing long-term results?
Luckily, you don't have to achieve to "greatest of all time" levels of success to have a better life or a healthier relationship with money. You can choose the perspective – the relevant time period and story you want to believe – that will serve you best.
You can focus on the wild unpredictability of each passing moment, or you can think of life in terms of years and decades. You can put your energy into worrying about unknown sinister threats lurking behind every corner. Or you can choose to make your story an epic hero's journey of perseverance and success in spite of the obstacles.
Onward and upward! Carpe that dang diem!
Timothy Iseler, CFP®
Founder & Lead Advisor
Iseler Financial, LLC | Durham NC | (919) 666-7604
Iseler Financial helps creative professionals remove stress while taking control of their financial futures. As both advisor and accountability partner, we help identify current strengths and weaknesses, clarify and refine your long-term goals, and prioritize understandable, manageable, and repeatable actions to bring long-term financial well-being. Reach out today to take the first step.