ATLANTA - In one of his last turns before the NBA media yesterday, Michael Jordan tossed off a few barbs, a few insults, and took a fond look back at the game he helped take to new heights.
Jordan, who will appear in his 13th and final All-Star Game tonight, eliminated any chance that he will return for a 16th season this fall in his strongest statement to date on the subject.
"I'm not tempted to continue on and play," said Jordan, who turns 40 on Feb. 17. "I just think this is my time. This is the perfect time for me. This is my choice. The itch is finally scratched in that sense and I can walk away knowing that."
Asked if a deep run into the playoffs by the Washington Wizards would change his mind about retiring, Jordan said, "No. We can win a championship and it wouldn't change my thinking. I've come to grips with that. My gut basically has said, this is it, and I'm going to go with that."
Jordan, who recently became the third all-time leading scorer in league history, behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Karl Malone, said he hoped that his legacy would be as a "bridge" between the great players of the past and the future. He also hoped to be remembered as a multifaceted player who was as gifted defensively as offensively.
"All of these factors I would like to be remembered as part of my legacy, and as a guy who truly loved the game and loved to take challenges and always against the odds," Jordan said. "People said he couldn't do anything and he said he could. Or he just believed in the unknown; that no matter what, he chased it. I'm not saying everything good happened to him. Some bad things happened, but he always was able to rise above the bad things.
"I just want to be remembered in that way as a hell of a competitor that never gave up on anything."
Jordan got in a few choice digs at a teammate and at one of his friends and former competitors.
When asked about the impact of an increasing number of foreign players in the league, Jordan praised NBA commissioner David Stern for creating the "Dream Team" concept for the 1992 Summer Olympics, which, in turn, opened the game to Europe and Asia.
"The Dream Team fell in place to where now they have the chance to see it, firsthand, 11 out of the 12 greatest players, not counting Christian Laettner," Jordan said to laughter.
Jordan is now not only a teammate of Laettner, but traded for him two years ago when he was the Wizards' president of basketball operations and gave him a four-year, $21 million contract extension after the 2000-01 season.
Jordan noted that the relationship between referees and players has grown more contentious during his career.
"The players are more demonstrative in terms of how they respond," Jordan said. "The referees are all trying to get respect."
Then he added jokingly, "They wear the small, tight T-shirts and look like they want to be dominant, standing there with their force."
Jordan also ruled out a run for political office, choosing not to follow the stated interest of Charles Barkley, his longtime friend, to run for governor of Alabama, or of former Lakers great Magic Johnson to run for mayor of Los Angeles.
"I tell you, all those guys, we have all got damage in our closets," Jordan said to laughter. "And if we can all come to grips with that and then go and live in a political world and chase that political dream, I support that candidate that is going to do that."