NORTHBROOK, Ill. -- Michael Jordan was named yesterday the Most Valuable Player in the NBA for the 1995-96 season. This revelation need not be filed under "S" for "Shock."
In fact, the only surprise was that the vote wasn't unanimous. Three of the 113 voters decided he was the second-most valuable player in the league this past season. One individual, who obviously was somewhat confused while watching his or her first set of professional basketball games, voted him fourth. The other 109 people entrusted with the responsibility to vote followed the only logical course of action and gave first place to Michael.
If we ever needed confirmation, we have it now. There has never been an American team-sports athlete quite like Michael Jordan. This man walked away from the sport, stayed away a year and three-quarters, and one year later wins the highest individual award his sport can bestow -- at the age of 33. Don't bother to look it up. It is unprecedented.
He was trying very hard to be gracious yesterday, but can you imagine what he's thinking? I mean, what he's really thinking? The only thing that possibly could make him feel better about himself would be winning another championship, and he's about three weeks away from getting that formality accomplished.
Michael Jordan has had even gaudier numbers than his 30-point, 6-rebound, 4-assist averages of '95-96, but in some very significant ways, this was his best season ever. He put the high-wire act on the back burner and concentrated on bringing out the best traits in what he's long referred to as his "supporting cast."
For coach Phil Jackson, who was given the honor of presenting No. 23 with his MVP trophy, Jordan was the perfect team leader, willing to assume any role or implement any particular game plan.
This was a new and improved Michael, and according to him, he owes it all to baseball.
What baseball did was humble Michael Jordan. So long used to being in charge of just about every basketball game, Michael found himself the object of both ridicule and pity as he struggled to hit a thrown baseball. He was an inconsequential player, and even more than that, an inconsequential player two levels below the big leagues. He needed advice. He needed encouragement. He needed simple companionship.
He had plenty of time to think about things as he rode the buses and sat in his hotel room, and he realized that he had not been fair to some of his basketball teammates in the past. He realized that he was textbook Exhibit A of the superstar who simply cannot understood why everyone else can't be just like him.
"I used to look at players earlier in my career and wonder why they didn't have the same burning desire I had," he said. "But seeing my minor-league teammates, and seeing how badly they all wanted to make it to the big leagues, I realized that wasn't the issue."
Pub Date: 5/21/96