The national championship game Monday night was the highpoint of his career. Everything he had done previously was building to this moment.
No, I’m not talking about Kris Jenkins, who hit the game winning shot for Villanova, or any other player or coach on the court. The aftermath of UNC losing to the Wildcats saw the zenith of Crying Jordan.
Photoshopping a picture of basketball legend Michael Jordan crying at his Hall of Fame induction in 2009 became Internet shorthand for a team losing or anyone dealing with a sad moment. Though it started (in one form) in 2012, it gained steam last year and become ubiquitous in 2016.
— Timothy Burke (@bubbaprog) April 5, 2016
But that meme was meant for Monday night. With the actual Michael Jordan in attendance cheering on the Tar Heels, his alma mater, the image spread across social media and cut down the viral nets.
Interestingly enough considering the subject of the meme, much of the subsequent conversation has been about the retirement of the picture. Is Crying Jordan now the Internet equivalent to Wizards Jordan—a once great thing hanging on too long?
Some take offense to one of (if not) the greatest basketball player being remembered as a meme like Philosoraptor or Star Wars kid. It’s one thing when one-hit-wonder Rick Astley becomes known for the Rickroll, but it’s something else when Jordan’s phenomenal, transcendent game is replaced by his puffy, teary face.
That’s the Internet though. Things shift and move. An unknown kid from Canadian can become world famous for his pretend light saber skills and the most well known athlete on the planet can become Twitter famous for his tears. It is no disrespect to Jordan that his likeliness is associated with losing in much the same way his jump shot is associated with winning.
UNC fans right now pic.twitter.com/yT3Hyjs8uh
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) April 5, 2016
In 20 years, Crying Jordan will have been a thing in much the same way “Double Rainbow” was a thing. No one is arguing about what color “the dress” is today, just like no one will put Jordan’s face on the loser of the 2023 NCAA Championship game. The headline to this post is an allusion to a long since forgotten meme (“Leave Britney Alone”).
But right now, Jordan’s tears flow right along with the fans of any losing team—despite protests from many. It’s the opposite of trying to make “fetch” happen. It’s trying to make the popular phrase not happen. That’s an exercise in futility.
I’m all for something silly lasting around a year in our culture. In meme years, Crying Jordan might be 120. And in the midst of the regular divisiveness of social media, I’ll take a potentially worn out joke.
The shared cultural moment gives us something that unites us, even if it is silly. I’ll gladly endure a tired meme with an occasionally funny take in the place of a perpetual and graceless argument over politics or a cultural issue.
Crying Jordan is not likely not taking away from loving, authentic discussions of serious topics online. Most likely, it’s shifting our attention momentarily away from the perpetual divisiveness and name-calling that pervades social media.
In that way, Crying Jordan understands what basketball Jordan understood. It is said that after refusing to vocally support a Democratic candidate for mayor in Charlotte, Michael Jordan replied, “Republicans buy sneakers too.” He didn’t want to alienate a potential customer by taking a political stand.
I’m not advocating never taking a controversial stand on an issue or making a political statement. That should be quite evident by my writing here and on social media. But I think the more pressing temptation in our current environment is to take an unnecessarily controversial stand on virtually everything.
It seems as if many Christians desire division instead of merely accepting it when it comes naturally. I have lost friends because of my stance on social, biblical issues. But I see that as an unfortunate side effect, not the intended cause. My goal was to be faithful to Christ, not abrasive to a friend.
Many of us, however, chase the division and the rejection as proof of our faithfulness, instead of resting in the acceptance of Christ. Some of us want to hear people call us names, more than we want to hear Jesus call us a good and faithful servant.
So bring on the Crying Jordan face. Post the silly jokes and weird gifs that make people smile. Hopefully, that’s one less personal insult and one more piece of common ground between people who otherwise never talk.
But just like the end of a meme, the division will come eventually. At some point, we should make clear our convictions and point people to Christ. Then, He (not us) will either be the stumbling block or the foundation.
So leave Crying Jordan alone. He may not be much. He may be past his prime. But he may be one of the things that gives us common ground on the Internet. And that just might be more impressive than dunking from the free throw line.