Please be like Mike - of yesterday


September 12, 2001|By Rick Morrissey | Rick Morrissey,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

There are ways to go out right, and there are ways to come back right. Michael Jordan has done them both in his time, done them well, entering and exiting the stage in such a way as to make whoever dared share the footlights with him appear to be the approximate size of a Pez dispenser.

If what Jordan said Monday served as an announcement that he's coming out of retirement, it had an air of wistfulness to it. It also offered a glimpse into a man who doesn't seem quite sure what to expect of himself or the game he dominated for so long. Suspense is one thing from Jordan. Doubt is another, and he doesn't wear it well.

Of course, late Monday, Jordan denied that he had said anything definitive. Oh Michael, you tease.

Let's back up. Earlier Monday, Jordan walked out of his Chicago restaurant and found three writers waiting for him. Three. This won't be confused with 1993, when he told a packed news conference that he was walking away from the Bulls to play minor-league baseball. And it certainly lacked the goose bumps that his "I'm back" press release produced in 1995.

Jordan said Monday that he had "matured" and that he had learned that "winning isn't always about championships."

Say you didn't utter those words, Michael. Say that you still have your canines and all of your bicuspids, and that some deranged dentist hasn't extracted them. After spending your career chasing championships with the single-mindedness of a predator, now championships aren't important?

Could whoever kidnapped MJ please bring him back?

Jordan also said he wants to help young players now, and I can think of better ways than this without risking some tarnish to his legacy. Teaching cigar-cutter safety, maybe.

If he does come back, we can look forward to Jordan contending for another NBA scoring title, only this time he'll be surrounded on all sides by Washington Wizards teammates who range from mediocre to comatose. Frustration should set in about the 10th loss, also known as "mid-November."

Maybe, many of us have said out loud, this isn't the best idea. Maybe Jordan is three years removed from his sixth championship with the Bulls and maybe he should stay removed.

Many people want him to come back, even people who don't work for Nike or the NBA office. Some can't bear the thought of him in a Wizards uniform. Others say that Jordan at 80 percent is better than 100 percent of Vince Carter. I don't want 80 percent of the old Michael Jordan.

I want the old Michael Jordan. I want the Michael Jordan who wore a Bulls uniform.

I suspect we're all being a little selfish here. Of course we all want Jordan back, even in a Wizards jersey, even at 38, because we want to see the greatest player of all time again. We all wanted the Beatles to come together, right now, and reunite, but I think most of us understood on some level that it couldn't ever be what it was before.

I'm being selfish here, too, I know. It's his life, and he apparently can't live it without the adrenaline of playing basketball. But I don't want him to be the NBA's goodwill ambassador, bringing joy, diminished basketball skills and more athletic apparel into our lives.

I want him to drop 42 points on Allen Iverson's tattooed behind. But that's not going to happen again.

Nothing will be like it was before. The way news of his possible return dribbled out proves that. Jordan had set a mid-September deadline for making a decision, and a country waited with unabated breath. We managed to get on with our lives. So Monday rolled around, and Jordan walked out and faced inquiring minds. Three of them.

That's a reflection of how tired the country has become of the will-he/won't-he game Jordan has played since first denying he was making a comeback. That was, what, three years ago? He winked knowingly too many times, and people started to roll their eyes.

He winked again Monday.

There is uncertainty on both sides, his and ours. In the last few months we've watched him wince his way through all sorts of aches and pains - cracked ribs and tendinitis in his knee - the sort of aches and pains we normal slobs get and don't expect Jordan to experience. His aches are our aches. We've had sympathy pains.

Why is he coming back?

"For the love of the game, nothing else," he said.

For the love of the game, I hope it works.

Rick Morrissey is a reporter for the Chicago Tribune.

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