Jordan's Journey

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No Time to Be an Airhead


Well, it wasn't exactly Sophie's Choice, was it?

I mean, it was either a) play the game of your life, hold the pose and retire in eye-aching glory, or b) come back for a sawed- off season full of puffy daddies stumbling around for teams Scotch-taped together at a chaotic two-week yard sale.

It was either stop at the absolute top -- the way Muhammad Ali didn't, the way Wayne Gretzky hasn't, the way Willie Mays wouldn't -- or drag your legend through the slop. We'll give you all the time you need. Is 10 seconds enough?

And yet, somehow, it took Michael Jordan seven months to make the decision.

Seven months! Carmen Electra could get married 42 times in seven months! Your new Pentium 4000X PowerLap will be obsolete in less time! The Malaysian red-eared sloth gestates, delivers and expires in less than seven months! Thank God, Jordan's not working the ER.

Nurse: Dr. Jordan! This kid's in big trouble! What should we do?

Jordan: Ummm, well, let me run that by Charles and get back to you.

Not that anybody was eager to hear. Just the NBA, NBC, the Chicago Bulls, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, 198 other free agents, Dow Jones, America, the world and Radio Free Neptune.

You say, Wait a minute! Michael was just holding off to bolster the players' position during negotiations to end the lockout!

Some bolstering. Jordan was about as much help as Boutros Boutros-Ghali. He'd show up for a meeting or two, as long as there were hot and cold running craps tables, but that's about it. Without him, the players crumbled like Roquefort, becoming the first sports union in history to agree to put a lid on what athletes can make. Thanks to the leadership of Billy Hunter, who trained under Custer, a player who had the potential to make $30 million a year last month, now can never make more than $14 million. Hey, where do we sign?

Not long ago, Jordan said he'd announce his decision when the lockout ended. It ended. Jordan was playing golf in the Bahamas. The next day Jordan was playing golf in the Bahamas. The next day Jordan was playing golf in the Bahamas.

The Bulls said they weren't lifting a hoof until they heard from Jordan. The league froze. A whole line of free agents bumped into the back of one another. For Jordan it must've been some wonderful ego trip: the world waiting for you on one crammed corner, rain dripping off guys' hats as each of them lifted his watch to his ear to see if the damn thing was still ticking. "Scottie's been trying to reach him," Jimmy Sexton, Pippen's agent, said three days after the agreement was reached. "Nobody knows where he is."

Can you believe that? Here was Pippen, without whom Jordan's fingers go naked, ready to finally step forward and cash his first big lotto ticket (Pippen made $30 million less than Jordan in salary alone last season), and Jordan left him cooling in the lobby.

And you are ...?

It's not just Pippen. The Bulls have four signed players. Four! Currently the second Luv-a-Bull from the right is scheduled to start at power forward. Club chairman Jerry Reinsdorf didn't know whether to reload or rebuild. "I'm going to talk to Michael directly," he said, "or through somebody."

That's nice. The guy who's paid you $63 million over the last two seasons has to talk to you through your valet? Jordan has talked to Daffy Duck more than Reinsdorf in the last six months.

And what about poor Tim Floyd, Chicago's coach-in-perpetual-waiting? He's still director of basketball operations, "just in case Michael wants to name his own coach," said one Bulls executive. Terrific! In this way Jordan was able to jerk around his owner, his best teammate and his coach! It's Sock Puppet Theater!

Look, I know I'm interrupting the papal services here. I know that the rest of the world considers Jordan the greatest human being since Gandhi. I'm not saying Jordan wasn't a great player, maybe the greatest basketball player in history, and the way he's going out -- if he stays out, which I doubt -- is perfect. But nobody else would be allowed to treat people this way.

Jordan has people who wax his wheels and shine his shoes and buff his brass. He has people who fashion his clothes and tend his toes and powder his nose. He has three guys to watch his back and three his front and one just to let him win at Scrabble.

Too bad he doesn't have anybody to tell him when he's being a jerk.


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