Jordan will be back, after deserved break

Bill Tanton

October 07, 1993|By Bill Tanton

Michael Jordan will be back. Next year. You wait and see.

Right now, Jordan probably doesn't realize that himself.

His decision to retire at the age of 30 is 100 percent sincere. It's also 100 percent understandable.

The past year and a half have been a meat grinder to Michael Jordan's psyche.

From leading the Bulls to their second straight NBA title in '92, he went straight to the Olympics and controversy there regarding Nike (Jordan's line) and Reebok (official equipper of the U.S. team), right back to another arduous NBA championship season, which saw Michael involved in another controversy over his late-night trip during the playoff series with the Knicks to gamble in Atlantic City. There was the book published during the playoffs about Jordan's gambling.

And, of course, there was the murder last summer of Michael's father, James Jordan -- a father with whom he was so close that Michael made eye contact with him in the stands before games because, "As long as he was there, I knew I had one fan."

All that would be too much for almost any human being to handle.

And so Michael confirmed at a news conference in a Chicago suburb yesterday that he has retired.

Shocking as it was, people can understand his decision when they reflect on what he has been through.

The Lakers' James Worthy, who has known Jordan since they played together at North Carolina, summed it up perfectly. "I'm shocked," Worthy said, "but life is bigger than basketball."

As soon as veteran NBA coach Chuck Daly, who coached Jordan in the Barcelona Olympics, heard the news, he said aloud what I was thinking.

"I think he'll be back in the game at some point down the road," Daly said.

Why?

Because basketball is what Michael Jordan's life is all about.

After the murder of his father, Michael told friends he was either going to retire or have a career year dedicated to his father.

A career year? How could he top what he has already done?

Three straight NBA championships. Three times MVP. Seven straight scoring titles. Nine-time All-Star. An NBA record scoring average of 32.3 points a game. Two Olympic gold medals.

"I've done it all," he says -- and he has.

So why come back?

It won't be for the money. He has more than he could spend in a lifetime and he'll earn more millions as a spokesman for commercial interests and various causes.

Long ago I learned not always to accept an athlete's claim that he plans to retire, especially when it comes at the end of a long, punishing season. After a six-month off-season, a lot of "retirees" were ready to go again.

For Michael Jordan there is no off-season. For him the attention and the pressure are never-ending. That's the price he pays for being the world's most recognizable athlete.

Jordan wouldn't be the first athlete to quit at the top of his game.

Jim Brown retired from football at 30. Bjorn Borg walked away from tennis at 26, although he came back years later and made a half-baked attempt to rejoin the tour.

Retirement is the only answer for Jordan now, but retirement becomes unbearable for many of the great ones.

Larry Bird hates to watch from the stands. Magic Johnson retired and came right back and played in the Olympics.

Magic regularly flirts with the idea of a return to the NBA, as a part-time player, even as an owner-player. How he must miss it.

Celebrity retirements can be meaningless. How many times did Sugar Ray Leonard retire? Will George Foreman ever retire? How many retirements has Frank Sinatra had?

For now Michael Jordan can do nothing but retire. The pain from his father's murder remains too great for him to charge into another long NBA season, though he said yesterday he would have retired even if his father hadn't met a tragic end.

How could Michael be expected to concentrate on basketball during the upcoming trial of the two 18-year-olds charged with James Jordan's murder?

Who can blame Michael if he harbors hard feelings toward the people who suggested in print and on the air that his father's murder was a mob hit connected with gambling? Even now there are those speculating that Michael's retirement was actually brought on by threats against him and his family.

I hope Jordan comes back, not just because he's the most amazing player his sport has ever known, but because he brings dignity to a sports world that too often lacks it.

That should be apparent just from his manner, his voice, his smile. The guy is genuine.

When Jordan last played in Baltimore, three years ago in a game at the Arena against the Bullets, I took my then 10-year-old son to the dressing room to meet him. Knowing how Jordan is hounded everywhere he goes, I was reluctant to do that. But kids adore Michael Jordan. It was obvious that meeting Michael would be the thrill of his young life.

Michael treated the boy with respect. He in no way acted as if it were a bother to have to shake hands with one more worshipper. I like Michael Jordan for many things, including that.

A year from now he'll be back. He said yesterday: "I'm not going to close the door on that."

The man just needs a year off.

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