Crying Jordan Photographer is Not Sad That the Meme Exists

"And it is funny. I'm sorry."

by Liam Daniel Pierce
May 20 2016, 9:15pm

Whether you love or hate the Crying Jordan meme, it is undeniable and inescapable at this point, and a cultural artifact that demands study. Or...maybe that's a bit much. But Crying Jordan, whether you believe it's played or permanently brilliant, is a fact of (online) life. And so it makes sense that this king among memes has a documentary of its own, thanks to 2 Point Lead.

Yes, 2 Point Lead describes itself as "a satirical look at the social sports conversation," but this is a legit mini documentary that takes the Crying Jordan meme as seriously...well, as seriously as it can be taken. The filmmakers interview the Associated Press photographer who captured the now-iconic moment. Stephan Savoia has nearly 40 years of professional sports photography under his belt, and not to mention two of those Pulitzer Prize thingies, and he turns out to be a pretty delightful main character.

Savoia was at the now-infamous Hall of Fame induction, and caught the moment, recalling that he said to a colleague at the time, "Do you see this? This is unbelievable." It is pretty unique to catch one of the greatest athletes of all time, let alone one as famously opaque as Jordan, emoting as he was. But what Savoia couldn't have anticipated at the time is that the image would so perfectly lend itself to a good, old fashioned meme-ing. Take, for example, the perfectly contrasted background, which practically Photoshop quick-selects itself. There is, too, the uncanny valley of this recognizably being an image of Michael Jordan, one of the most photographed and instantly recognizable humans on earth, while at the same time looking like a disfigured, almost fattened funhouse version of him. Factor in the perfect dovetail between Jordan's raw emotion and the internet's tendency to dig at weakness, and every ingredient is in place.

Savoia says that he hadn't heard about the meme until the Wall Street Journal contacted him up for an article they ran about it back in February, but that he was blown away when he discovered its existence.

"I find out that the thing is viral on the internet for a completely different reason [than Jordan's poignant moment]," Savoia said. "My kids started looking it up on their phones. And they were aware of it, and they couldn't believe that I was the one that shot the picture."

Savoia is flanked in the documentary by a couple of Crying Jordan naysayers—DJ Gallo of Sports Pickle and former Chicago Bulls guard and current ESPN analyst Jay Williams—who pooh-pooh the ubiquity of the meme. This is the most common counterargument on the meme, and yes, it's big enough to have a counterargument. Not that it's overdone, but that Jordan should be remembered for his greatness, not this one dumb photo. Savoia, who is new to all this, seems delighted about its existence.

"And it is funny. I'm sorry," Savoia said. "I think that it's great that people can take things that happened to them in life, and add a moment to it that kind of makes it a little lighter, somewhat humorous, and something we can all relate to. So I think it's going to be around for a long time," Savoia says. And then he smiles what appears to be a very genuine and sweet smile.

Ahhhh. How refreshing it must be to step into the Crying Jordan meme for the first time—and yet to have been there for the image in the first place. You're a national hero, Savoia. Don't let anyone tell you any different.