Jordan comes up for air Retirement could end craziness that has overwhelmed his life

October 06, 1993|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Staff Writer

He wasn't a multimillionaire back then, just a 19-year-old kid from a small North Carolina town who had made a jump shot that launched a legend.

He wasn't a reclusive superstar back then, just a college sophomore whose life had started to change a few months before, when his 17-footer beat Georgetown for the NCAA championship.

"Things are starting to get a little crazy," Michael Jordan said in January 1983. "Just because of one little shot."

Things got a lot crazier for Michael Jordan during the next decade, as his image grew larger than life, as he went from being a college star to perhaps the most famous -- and richest -- athlete in the world.

And that is why Jordan, 30, is announcing his retirement from the NBA at a news conference in Chicago today: Since leading the Bulls to their third straight championship in June, things got a little too crazy.

Even for Michael Jordan.

There was the death of his father, James, the victim of a middle-of-the-night random murder along a highway two months ago.

James Jordan, 56, was slain in his car on a North Carolina roadside. His body was found Aug. 3 in a South Carolina creek by a fisherman. It was identified using dental records Aug. 13.

Two 18-year-olds were charged with the killing. The state of North Carolina plans to seek the death penalty against Larry Martin Demery and Daniel Andre Green. Police said it was not a premeditated killing, but rather an act of random violence.

"He was Michael's overseer," Bulls forward Horace Grant said shortly after James Jordan's death. "He was Michael's voice. Not having that familiar voice and his uplifting spirit when we travel will be tough."

There were also the unfounded rumors that his father's murder had to do with Jordan's gambling.

The gambling issue had been raised more than a year ago, when Slim Bouler, a casual acquaintance of Jordan's, was found holding a check from the basketball megastar for $57,000. Things quieted for a while but blew up again during this year's NBA playoffs when another acquaintance, San Diego businessman Richard Esquinas, charged that Jordan had a gambling problem.

"Michael's biggest problem is that he doesn't know who his friends are," said Buzz Peterson, his former college roommate and now an assistant coach at Vanderbilt. Peterson made that assessment before anyone ever had heard the names of Slim Bouler and Richard Esquinas associated with Jordan's.

Life was much simpler when he first was learning how to play the game that became his passion -- golf, not basketball -- from a fellow Tar Heel named Davis Love III. Life was much simpler when Jordan's image wasn't plastered on cereal boxes and the sides of high-rise buildings.

But that life changed dramatically when Jordan left the cocoon that was Chapel Hill, N.C., having proved to the doubters back in his hometown of Wilmington that he could play big-time college basketball. That life changed when he turned Olympic gold into an NBA gold mine.

For a few years, at least, he seemed amazingly unaffected by his celebrity and his burgeoning fortune. A few days after he scored 63 points in a 1986 playoff game against the Boston Celtics -- perhaps the game that launched his pro legend -- Jordan was at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda to play at a media-day outing for the Kemper Open.

"What are you doing here?" someone asked him.

"Do you think they'll let me play?" he said with an innocence that belied his celebrity status.

That innocence didn't last long. Jordan became part of the NBA's elite and perhaps its greatest player ever. But there was a price for those seven straight scoring titles and three straight NBA championships.

It cost Jordan any sense of privacy for himself and his family. His trip to Atlantic City, N.J., during last season's playoff series against the New York Knicks was done as much to get some fresh air as it was to get some action in the casinos. He had become a prisoner, a man who couldn't go out in public without creating a mob scene.

All that success and all that money and all that fame ultimately cost Jordan his career, and maybe tarnished his near-perfect image along the way.

He did not retire as Magic Johnson did two years ago, after contracting the virus that causes AIDS. He did not retire as Larry Bird did last year, after injuries had turned a legend into a ghost. He is retiring because things got too crazy.

JORDAN'S CAREER STATS

COLLEGE

Year ..... Team ........ G ... FG ... FT ... Reb .. Pts ... PPG

1981-82. North Carolina. 34 .. .534.. .722.. 149... 460 ... 13.5

1982-83. North Carolina. 36 .. .535.. .737.. 197... 721 ... 20.0

1983-84. North Carolina. 31 .. .551.. .779.. 163... 607 ... 19.6

Totals ....... ........ 101 .. .540.. .748.. 509.. 1788 ... 17.7

NBA

Regular season

Year ....... Team ...... G ... FG ... FT ... Reb ... Ast ... PPG

1984-85 ... Chicago ... 82 .. .515.. .845... 534 ... 481 ... 28.2

1985-86 ... Chicago ... 18 .. .457.. .840.... 64 .... 53 ... 22.7

1986-87 ... Chicago ... 82 .. .482.. .857... 430 ... 377 ... 37.1

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