Who is there to accept the baton?
Posted: Wednesday January 13, 1999 12:57 PM
In retrospect, he surely was created on a canvas, either as a magnificent
work of art or a comic book super hero ... and perhaps both.
Superman, after all, never flew quite so high, or, in his middle years,
suffered such human failings.
Jordan was simply one of the most complete, and yet, flawed, athletic
creations in this planet's history.
The best basketball player ever? The most average baseball player? The
most eager golfer? The best huckster?
The ultimate in class and style and thousand-dollar nassaus.
But beyond anything else, as his career in the NBA comes to a stuttering
end, he shall be remembered as the man who, almost like a human jet, flew
the league beyond Magic Johnson and Larry Bird into its multimillion-dollar
There is irony there, for when Magic and Bird left the NBA, we wondered if
anyone could possibly come along to elevate the game further, and almost
immediately there was Michael.
But at the end of this remarkable reign, who is there to accept the baton?
Could we have somehow seen the ultimate performer?
He leaves not as the all-time leading scorer, but his 10 scoring titles
are three more than anyone else in history. He departs with six
championship rings -- five fewer than Bill Russell -- and yet what one
other man was responsible for transcending the game, drawing sellouts and
high television ratings whenever he performed.
And who, singlehandedly, won more games? Jordan's theatrics were heroic
... 25 game-winning shots over his NBA career, like the memorable jumper
against Cleveland in '89 and the shot that beat Utah in '98.
But in between those two shots came one of the most mysterious, perhaps
human gaps in sports history. As Michael Jordan was taking his rightful
place as one of the greatest athletes of all time, he chose to retire from
basketball to try his hand at baseball. The tragic death of his father
eating away at him and rumors of heavy gambling on the golf course took
Why not baseball? But, if he himself believed in his athletic
invincibility, that game did not. It chased him amid great fanfare to the
minor leagues and chronicled his failings nightly.
As a basketball player, bronze. As a baseball player, papier-mache.
And so, almost as though he had served his sentence, the NBA gladly took
him back two years later and just days into his second-coming, he scored 55
points against the Knicks.
His role in the league was one thing, his status as the world's
highest-paid salesman was another altogether. From shoes to cologne, he
made millions for himself, much more for his companies. Hollywood called
and Michael jammed. It was a natural.
And his Chicago
Bulls, with Jordan leading the league in scoring, won the last three
Now, a season in disrepair, he takes his final leave to lower his handicap
and raise his children and to take his rightful place as an elder
Will another somehow enter his vaunted air space and rescue the NBA once
again? Or have we been blessed with the Last Great Skywalker?
If there are artists hard at work, they had best have majestic
imaginations. For this one will be almost impossible to beat.