Hey, Michael, see ya! (next year, that is)

KEN ROSENTHAL

October 07, 1993|By KEN ROSENTHAL

He's taking a year off. A year off from controversy. A year off from celebrity. A year off from the media spotlight he once craved, but now abhors.

Is there any doubt Michael Jordan will be back? He started talking about his comeback yesterday, on the day he retired.

Thirty years old and finished.

Right.

This isn't just a basketball player. This is a man addicted to competition. Nothing left to prove -- what a hoot. Jordan always has something to prove. In part, that's what yesterday was all about.

"I am capable of hiding from you guys and doing what I want," Jordan told reporters.

He isn't sick of basketball, he's sick of the scrutiny. That much was evident from his snide and testy remarks at his news conference in Deerfield, Ill.

What's the next step, Michael?

"Walking away from you guys in a few minutes," Jordan told reporters. "That would be a good step."

It went on like this the entire news conference.

"I have always said I would never let you guys run me out of the game, so don't think that," Jordan said in his opening statement.

No one did, but Jordan kept raising the issue.

"When I stepped onto the basketball court, there wasn't anything left for me to prove," he said. "That's one of the reasons you guys stepped into my private life."

So no broadcasting career, huh, Mike?

"I would never do your jobs," Jordan said. "You don't have sympathy for normal people sometimes."

Normal people.

You know, like Michael Jordan.

On one hand, Jordan has a right to be angry -- it was irresponsible for some in the media to portray his father's murder as possibly linked to his gambling debt when it was a random act of violence.

Still, Jordan didn't complain when the media fueled his legend and helped turn him into a $50 million-a-year conglomerate. No question, there's a build-'em-up, tear-'em-down syndrome among the media. But Jordan brought many of his problems upon himself.

He's the one who wrote a $57,000 check to a convicted cocaine dealer as payment for a gambling debt. And his former golfing partner, Richard Esquinas, is the one who wrote a book saying he had a gambling problem.

Jordan exercised poor judgment in choosing his friends, a mistake anyone can make. But as the world's most popular athlete, he should have understood the need for discretion. When he hit the Atlantic City casinos the night before a playoff game, people were bound to draw the wrong conclusions.

This is the price of celebrity. Yes, it's unfair -- about as unfair as earning millions for drinking Gatorade, eating Wheaties and wearing Nike. Jordan created the monster. Now that everyone wants to Be Like Mike, it's too late to tear it down.

Not that Jordan wants to -- he's keeping all his endorsements, isn't he? Oh, he's still going to be Michael Jordan. Still going to be famous. And, in a year or two, he'll be back in the NBA.

Even Magic Johnson predicted as much.

"I think Michael is a guy who just wants to be left alone now," Johnson said. "I think he's a bit tired of being under the microscope, so to speak. I think he just wants to take a little time off and just be a regular person and enjoy his family."

That's what this is about -- getting away. Jordan said he would have retired even if his father were alive. He said he will miss the Chicago Bulls. He said he still loves the game. Put it all together, and there's only one thing he wants to eliminate. The scrutiny.

It doesn't mean Jordan has something to hide, although the NBA is continuing its investigation of his alleged gambling activity. It just means he's tired of all the questions, all the prodding. Ross Perot used the same logic to drop out of the 1992 presidential campaign. He later returned, figuring there'd be no more controversy.

That's not the way it works, but rest assured, Jordan will return a bigger hero. The script is already in place. Bulls struggle without Jordan. Fans plead for Jordan to return. Jordan makes thrilling comeback. Bulls win NBA title.

It's a classic bit of manipulation from a superstar who temporarily wants out of the spotlight. Think Jordan will thank the media for their role when he's the talk of the 1994-95 NBA season? Of course not. It's all part of the game.

So long, Michael.

See you next year.

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