One Chicagoan's take on the retirement of 'His Airness'
By Jeff Flock
January 22, 1999
In this story:
CHICAGO (CNN) -- OK, I'll say it. He's coming back. It was another sports great who said, "It ain't over 'til it's over." And I'm here to tell you, Michael Jordan's career is not over.
Look at this face at the news conference last week. Is it the face of someone who is done with the game he reinvented?
I've seen a lot of players of various games retire. When they're truly done there are tears. There's pain. Or resignation.
But here there was only sorrow, because Michael Jordan was forced by events beyond his control, on the same court where he DID control nearly every important game he played, to try to say goodbye.
The games that brought him here were not played on the court. The fact is that he didn't have the coach he wanted. There was no guarantee he'd have the team he wanted. His wife had had enough of carrying the ball at home.
Neither the National Basketball Association management nor the NBA players wanted to settle their labor dispute the way he thought they should.
And then there was the cigar.
First, the coach. HIS coach, Phil Jackson, quit at the end of last year's season. Partly because no one gave him much credit for winning since he had Michael on his team.
The team's choice for replacement, a man named Tim Floyd, whom Jordan dubbed "Pink," was not Michael's.
Then, the team. Bulls management said it wanted his teammates back, though we're seeing this week that almost none of them will be. Scottie Pippen will be traded to Houston. Dennis Rodman and most of the rest will play elsewhere, too.
Still, Jordan may have returned and been able to talk the rest of the team into coming back, too. He may even have been able to talk his wife into basketball widowhood for yet another season.
But then there was the NBA labor trouble. Jordan wasn't happy with the lockout, and he wasn't happy with the settlement.
More important, the man who made a career of making fans happy and living up to and beyond their every expectation faced the prospect of having to deal with angry, disaffected fans.
That battle he may have been willing to fight, too.
But then, there was his finger. It seemed no one else at last week's press conference wanted to ask about it on such a historic day.
"How bad is the cut on your finger, and could you play now if you wanted to, and did it influence your decision?" I asked.
"Sliced it trying to cut a cigar," Jordan confessed. He had cut through a tendon, and doctors told him it would be at least two months before he could play, even if he wanted to. That would be two months into an already shortened season.
"My mind was already made up," Jordan said. That's what he said.
Don't tell me Michael doesn't want to play basketball anymore because he's already accomplished so much: six NBA championships, five-time league MVP, highest career scoring average in NBA history, a record 10 seasons leading the league in scoring, two Olympic gold medals.
Did da Vinci quit painting after he did such a nice job on "The Last Supper"? No, he went on to paint "Mona Lisa."
What if Shakespeare stopped writing plays after "Romeo and Juliet"? There would be no "Hamlet."
And what if The Beatles had quit singing after "I Wanna Hold Your Hand"? We would have never heard "The Long and Winding Road."
Don't tell me Michael Jordan doesn't want to play basketball anymore. Tell me he's tired. He's angry. He's fed up. Tell me he's had enough of events beyond his control.
But some day, that "1 percent" of a chance he said he had of returning will grow. Don't forget, Michael Jordan is not only widely considered the greatest basketball player ever. He is still the best there is. Present tense.
And some day, rested, ready and riled, Michael Jordan will again take to the air for one more masterpiece.
And for all of you who say I'm in denial, I reply: "What's your point?"
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