In sports, whether individual or team, there's always talk of creating a legacy. Everyone wants to succeed, thereby making a name for themselves.
Except what happens when your name has already been made -- by another player, in another sport? And what if that player was widely considered one of, if not the best athlete, of all time?
Enter Michal Jordan.
Throughout his burgeoning career, the 22-year-old Czech defenseman has faced a unique set of circumstances borne from something beyond his control: his name. When he was born in Zlin, Czech Republic, on July 17, 1990, his parents had no knowledge of his basketball-playing namesake, who had just won his fourth-straight scoring title in the National Basketball Association.
Michael Jordan, the basketball player, would continue his success, leading his team, the Chicago Bulls, to a string of titles and his country to a pair of gold medals while becoming a global brand in his own right.
Michal Jordan said he first realized his name's significance when he was 12 or 13 years old, playing junior hockey in his home country. Little did he know that his talent would catapult him into the back yard of His Airness.
Drafted at No. 105 by the Carolina Hurricanes in 2008, Jordan has played the past two-and-a-half seasons with the Charlotte Checkers of the American Hockey League. That's Charlotte, N.C., where Michael Jordan owns the NBA's Charlotte Bobcats. (The Bobcats and Checkers actually share the Time Warner Cable Arena.)
It's also the same state where Jordan was raised and where he starred for the University of North Carolina men's basketball team, winning a national championship in 1982 and a lifetime of adoration from the state's Tar Heel faithful.
Talk about a tough act to follow.
Asked about Air Jordan's footsteps, Michal insisted he would be blazing his own trail.
"He set the bar pretty high," Jordan deadpanned. "I just try to be myself and not really think about the (name) similarity.
"When I was younger I was hoping to play for Czech national team, but as I got older the NHL became a dream for me. When I was 16 or 17 I left to play for the Plymouth Whalers (Ontario Hockey League) and I got the chance to be drafted and play for the AHL, and now I've got a chance to play for the NHL. I hope to keep going in that direction when I am an NHL player full-time. I try to be myself, that's pretty much it."
But it appears some of that MJ mojo has rubbed off on the younger Jordan. Always a talented, puck-moving defenseman, the hockey-playing Jordan has developed during the past season into one of Carolina's top prospects.
This season, Michal started in the AHL All-Star Game and had six goals, nine assists and a plus-11 rating through 48 games played.
"It's nice I'm playing well this year in Charlotte," Jordan said. "I had the chance to play the All-Star Game and the last couple months have been a great ride."
Jordan was quickly earning a reputation as one of AHL's best defensemen, and it wasn't long before the big club started to take notice. Days before Air Jordan induced nostalgia across the sporting universe by celebrating his 50th birthday, Michal quietly celebrated a milestone of his own with his first call-up to the Hurricanes.
"It was a pretty cool moment to play the first game in Raleigh with my family in the stands and against Toronto, it was really just unreal," Jordan said of the Valentine's Day matchup against the Maple Leafs. "I just couldn't really believe it was happening."
Jordan knows he has a long way to go, a fact evident to anyone with an Internet connection. When searching "Michal Jordan" on Google, his Wikipedia page is only the second result. Google assumes you've just misspelled the NBA legend's name.
That's not stopping Jordan from connecting with his fans on a grass-roots level, however. A frequent, and funny, tweeter -- follow him at @TheBigCzech23 -- Michal embraces the moniker confusion.
On the basketball star's birthday, the hockey player tweeted: "thank you for b day wishes. truly dont feel like i am 50 years old today.#happyBDabMj #airJordan #youngMind."
Jordan said he was really thanking those who congratulated him on his simultaneous NHL call-up.
"When it was his birthday a lot of people in Charlotte were telling me he had a birthday coming up that Sunday," Jordan said. "It's funny it worked out like that, that I got called up to the NHL, so it just came to my head that it would be funny to tweet something like that."
For the time being at least, the similarities between the two Jordans remain flimsy; that is, Michael and Michal, despite their professional-athlete status and nearly identical names, occupy entirely different realities.
One still reigns as king of his sport, a global business and sporting icon. The other just shares his name, minus an "e."
But in one way they are similar: Both had a formative experience that drove them to succeed in the face of doubt and dismissal.
Michael never forgave his high school basketball coach for the perceived slight of cutting him from his varsity roster. Similarly, Michal faced skepticism from many in his homeland who said he would never succeed here.
"When I was leaving to go to [North America], a lot of people were saying, 'He'll never make it. In two years he'll be back in the Czech Republic, no way he's going to make it to the NHL,'" Jordan said. "So getting called up to Carolina was important for me, for the many years I am working hard and all those people were saying things behind my back."
In his initial call-up, he spent 10 days with the Hurricanes, averaging 10:41 of ice time during five games. He was sent down Feb. 25, recalled two days later, then sent back Thursday.
Though it is doubtful Michal Jordan will reach the same stratospheric heights of his counterpart, he has proven his detractors wrong and has no plans of slowing down.
TALE OF THE TAPE
Greatest individual award
1) Michal – Best Defenseman, 2008 World Junior Championship
2) Michael – NBA MVP (5 times)
Games played in pro career
1) Michal – 5
2) Michael – 1,251
Significance of Check
1) Michal – Is Czech
2) Michael – Made the Nike Swoosh famous
Shots taken in pro career
1) Michal – 2
2) Michael – 29,034
1) Michal – The Big Czech
2) Michael – Air Jordan, His Airness, MJ, Money
1) Michal – Third season with Charlotte Checkers (AHL)
2) Michael – Owns the Charlotte Bobcats (NBA)
What they endorse
1) Michal – His paychecks
2) Michael - Nike, Gatorade, Hanes among others
1) Michal – 47
2) Michael – 23
1) Michal – No. 105
2) Michael – No. 3
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