His work is now complete. Michael Jordan posed last week in Nikes beneath the Eiffel Tower while promoting McDonald's, and the resulting photographs were not pictures so much as pictographs: swooshes, golden arches, the monument and Michael, each emblem instantly recognizable almost everywhere on earth. In Paris, Jordan finally joined that little red man in the don't-walk sign and the white silhouette on the men's room door as the most famous of world figures—a genuine international icon.
As recently as a month ago this was not the case. Jordan vacationed in the French capital in late September, walking the streets unbothered, accompanied by only one of what is ordinarily his trio of bodyguards. In the States it often takes all three guys—Gus, C.T. and John Michael—to form a flying wedge around MJ, cutting through crowds like a cowcatcher on a locomotive. But no crowds assaulted Jordan in Paris last month. "This was like the last area I could go unnoticed," Jordan said of a city he has visited nearly every other summer since he entered the NBA in 1984. "Now," he added unnecessarily, "that's not so."
That is no longer so because Jordan returned to Paris last week, this time with the five-time NBA champion Chicago Bulls, and this time the City of Light left the lights on for him. The prime minister of France, more than 27,000 other fans and some 1,000 journalists came to see him play two games, some of those people applauding him, some asking for his autograph and some wearing Bulls warmup tops. (And those were just the journalists. Honestly.)
If this season should be the end of the Bulls' belle epoque—coach Phil Jackson says that this is his final campaign, and Jordan says he won't play for anyone but Jackson—then what a weird way for the end to begin: in Paris, where the Bulls betrayed a palpable last-days-of-the- Beatles kind of vibe. They arrived without forwards Dennis Rodman (who was in California recovering from bronchitis and pneumonia and grumbling about his still unsigned contract) and Scottie Pip-pen (who is out until at least late December following foot surgery) to play in the McDonald's Championship, an international tournament of six pro league champions, contested in an arena, the Palais Omnisports de Bercy, whose exterior is covered in growing grass. "We like this building," explained an NBA vice president. "It's the Chia Pet of arenas."
Be that as it may, there was only one oddity of any interest to Europeans in Paris last week: Heir Jordan. Or Se�or Jordan. Or Monsieur Jordan. Like God, he was called by a thousand names, though Jordan was quick to deny one journalist's suggestion that he is God or that he's even a god. "It's certainly an embarrassing situation for me," Jordan said when pressed on the issue of divinity. "I play a game of basketball.... I try to entertain for two hours and then let people go home to their lives.... I could never consider myself a god."
No, like any other visitor to Paris, Jordan came for the museums (expressing a specific interest in visiting "the Luge"), to debut his new line of shoes (they're dimpled like a golf ball, with what appears to be a gleaming gem on each sole) and to "address the Princess Diana issue" (as he was asked to do by a Chicago television reporter). "You have to find as much peace of mind in front of the public as you can," Jordan said in response to that question, and in this regard he seems to have succeeded admirably. Jordan's car was pursued at least once by a motorcycling photographer, he stayed but a block from the Ritz, and the number of men guarding him at one point swelled to six. And that was just at the official dinner, a private affair for the McDonald's Championship teams at a belly-dancing emporium called the Buddha Bar. "He had a lot of security," said Steve Rich, a Floridian who plays for Argentina's Atenas de Cordoba. "I knew I wouldn't be able to touch him, but some of our other players didn't understand that."
Everybody wanted an autograph from l'idole, as French newspapers called Jordan in front-page headlines. In the very last question of the very last press conference of the week, a journalist from Spain asked a question in Spanish, which was translated for Jordan on a headset. "For those of you who don't understand Spanish," Jordan announced to the assembled members of the world media, "he asked me for an autograph for his kid. I don't have a problem doing that"—here Jordan appeared to slump a little in his seat—"though this isn't the proper forum."
Perhaps recognizing that there is no refuge from his fame, Jordan appears to have made peace with the kind of scrutiny that once drove him to retire from basketball. "It looks like a big concert," said Henry Williams, a 27-year-old American who plays guard for the Italian team Benetton Treviso, describing the throngs that awaited Jordan whenever he entered or exited the Inter-Continental Hotel last week. "And he's so used to it. He must get that every day. But for me to see it up close, it's nothing short of incredible. I want to play in the NBA, but I personally wouldn't want that kind of fame. It would take away from your ability to be a normal person."
Normal person? Jordan is now so accustomed to dutifully pleasing a crowd—to being the only reason that a great many people have come to the arena—that he appeared to invent a new phrase last week to describe that period when he is reinserted into the game in the final minutes of a blowout victory: "Encore time," he called it, as in, "Phil was trying to give me some encore time tonight."
He is not merely bigger than the game itself; he dwarfs it. During the first quarter of Chicago's 89-82 victory over Paris-St. Germain on Friday night, Jordan gave NBA referee Jack Nies a broad smile and an encouraging slap on the butt for no apparent reason—except that Nies would undoubtedly feel flattered by the gesture. ( Jordan was assessed three fouls nonetheless.)