Jordan's Journey

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Who is there to accept the baton?


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.

Michael 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 era.

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.


CNN/SI 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 their toll.

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 NBA Championships.

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 statesman.

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.


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