There is a type of sports fan endemic to Chicago: guys whose formative years spanned decades of losing seasons, guys who never learned the ups of fandom, just the downs, until the only joy they could take from professional sports was the cynic's pleasure of having their low expectations fulfilled. Guys, I admit it, like me. When a winner does finally appear in a city like Chicago, these fans react like albino fish brought up into the sun from the lightless depths, blinking uncomprehendingly: they know something is happening, but nothing in their experience tellsthem how to react. The good news is that most of us recover from the shock after a year or two, and that most of us don't become professional sportswriters. Then again, there's Sam Smith.
Smith's "Second Coming" purports to be a hard-nosed examination of Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls during Jordan's "retirement" from the NBA following the death of his father, Jordan's travails as a minor-league baseball player and subsequent return to basketball, with (at first) less-than spectacular results. A sequel to "The Jordan Rules", Smith's first uncensored-behind-the-scenes look at the Bulls during their early-'90's title runs, this book is both less shocking -- you only have to open any week's sports pages to realize that today's pro atheletes are not choirboys -- and more mean-spirited than its predecessor.
If Sam Smith were an NBA player, he'd be Bill Laimbeer: moderately talented, but cursed with a congenital inability to pass up a cheap shot (Smith takes gratuitous aim at everyone from the Bulls' TV announcers to Madonna) and the obnoxious habit of feigning bafflement that anyone would take offense (Smith is shocked, *shocked* that Jordan and others had less-than positive reactions to "The Jordan Rules").
There's no doubt that many aspects of professional sports are open to criticism, and Michael Jordan is no exception. But "Second Coming" provides little criticism and lots of tabloid-style dirt-dishing. Smith reports the facts of Jordan's gambling sprees (by far the most legitimate fan concern covered), but then sabotages his own credibility by mentioning every scurrilous rumor, most of them proven to be false, that followed those events and the shooting of James Jordan. I held on as Smith hammered away at his theme -- that Jordan was too old, too selfish, and too poor a leader for his comeback to be successful -- waiting for the "bonus chapter" (added to the paperback edition) on the Bulls' historic '95-'96 season. How would Smith explain his remarkable lack of predictive skills? He wouldn't, preferring instead to concentrate on the antics of Dennis Rodman.
If you want to know more about the dark side of professional sports, and maybe even do something about it, read Mike Lupica's scorching fan manifesto "Mad as Hell". If you want to read about Jordan and the Bulls, buy Bob Greene's sublime "Hang Time" and its sequel "Rebound". Lupica may be a bit overinflated and Greene a little too uncritical of his subject, but at least neither of them have forgotten the reasons why we started watching the game in the first place