Michael Jordan Handled his retirement press conference in Chicago on Oct. 6 with grace, humor and even a bit of competitive pique, all typical of the man whose talent and charisma have dominated the sports landscape for the past decade. But did he also handle it with complete candor?
There is no reason to believe that Jordan was not serious when he said he had decided that he will not play in the NBA. But that doesn't mean he won't change his mind someday. That doesn't mean the competitive fires won't once again start raging, perhaps luring him back to the arena in which, over nine seasons, he established himself as the best basketball player of all time. That doesn't mean after, say, 300 days, golf won't start to get old. And it doesn't mean he won't play in Europe for a team that he might also own.
Similarly, there is no reason to believe that Jordan wasn't telling the truth when he said, "I just feel that I don't have anything else to prove," or when he said, "The desire just isn't there." But that doesn't mean those feelings were the only reasons he hung it up in the prime of a brilliant career. Is he a classic victim of burnout, brought on in part by his battles with the media over his privacy, not to mention his grief over the murder of his father two months ago? Was he also bothered by the specter of continued questions about his high-stakes gambling?
One thing is certain: Jordan's announcement was a stunner, and not just in the City of Slumped Shoulders. "A sporting bomb from the U.S.," a TV network in Greece proclaimed, and that it was. Yes, Jordan had issued broad hints over the past few years that his retirement was nigh, even saying on more than one occasion that his Air Jordans would never grace the playing surface at Chicago's new $175 million United Center, which will be the Bulls' home arena beginning with the 1994-95 season. But no one was fully prepared to grasp the thought that the 30-year-old Jordan would not rise to the challenge of winning a fourth straight NBA championship or add to his seven consecutive scoring titles (a record he shares with Wilt Chamberlain). Jordan had been out of contact with Bull officials over the summer, but that was not unusual—he always went his own way until the last moment, then came to training camp and picked up right where he had left off, which meant whipping everyone's tail in camp, in the exhibition season, in the regular season and, finally, in the postseason.
Jordan left the door open to return, but only a crack; his attorney, David Falk, said Jordan's hedging at the press conference on calling his retirement permanent was done at Falk's request. Jordan claims he will stay busy playing golf, spending time with his family, playing golf, getting more involved with the various corporations he represents and playing golf.
It is true, though, that Jordan and Nike chairman Phil Knight have been talking about the possibility of jointly buying a team in Europe, on which the best player would be a certain globally recognized superstar wearing number 23. The exposure in Europe could only help Nike, whose stock has fallen from $90.25 last Nov. 24 to $45 last week. As for Jordan, there are some great courses over there.
However, logic suggests that European basketball would not be intense enough to sate Jordan's maniacal competitiveness. Neither will increasing his involvement with companies like Quaker Oats and Wilson, the sort of work that Jordan, in contrast to Magic Johnson, has never cared for. As for his remark that he might sit around watching the grass grow and even cut it from time to time, well, that matches no known portrait of Michael Jeffrey Jordan, he of the boundless energy and endless thirst for victory, who could play 36 holes, sleep three hours, then go out and score 50 on anyone.
But it is undeniable that Jordan needed to get away. The Bulls' third straight championship proved, beyond a doubt, his preeminence as an NBA player. Even Magic, with a better "supporting cast" (to use a favorite Jordan phrase), never won three in a row. Nor did Larry Bird, who played with two teammates—Robert Parish and Kevin McHale—who are locks for the Hall of Fame. What was left to prove? Jordan's greatest achievement was that, game after game, season after season, he was actually better than his hype. Shaquille O'Neal is about to find out how hard it is to pull that off.
And then there was the fishbowl existence that Jordan endured off the court. His multitude of public relations entanglements—criticism from the black community for his refusal to be outspoken on political and social issues; reports in author Sam Smith's best-selling 1991 book, The Jordan Rules, that he was aloof and highly critical of his teammates; the gambling allegations—had worn him down. Though he made a point of telling the media that "you did not drive me out of the game," it was clear that, in fact, the Fourth Estate had played a part in his departure. Jordan's media-bashing at the press conference was heavy-handed at times and, to those reporters who had known him a long time, somewhat sad.
While it is true that Jordan took some uncalled-for shots over the last few seasons, he seems to have forgotten that most reporters had been eminently fair with him and that some had all but groveled in his presence. The media became to Jordan, as they do to many lesser athletes, a nebulous "you guys," a phrase he used 21 times at his farewell press conference. As Jordan's anger and resentment grew at the erosion of his public image over the last few years, he pulled away from the media and, gradually, closed his circle around him. Jordan never became completely paranoid, but he did seem to think that someone was chasing him.