Thrusday, January 14, 1999

Even coaches wanted kids to be like Mike




BY TIM SULLIVAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        George Jackson was in mourning. In lieu of a black armband, he wore a Michael Jordan cap to work at Withrow High School.

        Basketball coaches across the country felt Jordan's loss Wednesday as if it were a body blow. Theirs is a tougher gig today because Jordan retired Wednesday, leaving no obvious successor as the game's ranking role model.

        Jordan made it easier to coach defense because he approached it with the same passion he demonstrated with dunks. Jordan made it easier to teach fundamentals because his game was as meticulous as it was magical. For all his aeronautical acrobatics, his stupendous leaps, and his ability to market something as incorporeal as “Air,” the dribbling deity of the Chicago Bulls was wonderfully well grounded as a basketball player.

        “Everybody wants to win,” Jackson said, “but like Bobby Knight says, few people are willing to pay the price to win. You tell the kids, "Don't get caught up in the highlights, the dunks and all that. Look at how Jordan squares up to the basket, how he's always on balance. Look at his help defense, his on-the-ball defense.' ”

        Rick Majerus, the University of Utah coach, has compiled a highlight tape consisting of Jordan taking charges, setting screens, diving after loose balls, bumping cutters. He shows it to his players to demonstrate they can all “be like Mike” in some way, even without the aid of a flight simulator.

        “I do so many clinics and camps,” said Northern Kentucky University coach Ken Shields, “and I always bring it to their attention that Michael Jordan is a young fellow who got cut (in high school) and that he's also a stellar defensive player. I think that makes him so special, and brings about a desire to emulate.

        “If you can look at your team and say, "Here's one of the greatest players in the world who's taking pride in his defense,' obviously all of us should do that.”

More than dunks
        Michael Jordan would have been a mighty good player had he spent his entire career beneath the rim. The dunk was his signature, and would have to be at the heart of any Jordan highlight reel, but it amounts to an affectation in view of the range and refinement of his skills.

        What distinguished Jordan from Julius Erving and Dominique Wilkins and the other legendary leapers was that he played both ends of the floor passionately, and each minute as if if the fate of Western Civilization hung on the next hoop.

        Coaches spend their lives trying to cultivate that kind of commitment in their players. To find it in an athlete of Jordan's ability is like a fifth-grade teacher discovering Charles Dickens in her composition class.

        “I've never seen anybody pick up the game so fast,” James Worthy said of Jordan during their college days at North Carolina. “Michael just doesn't repeat mistakes.”

        Better yet, Jordan was never satisfied with his own supremacy. He was always tinkering with some facet of his game, as if he were competing not with his opponents, but with human potential.

Developed lethal fadeaway
        As he found flying more difficult, Jordan developed a lethal fadeaway jumper. He turned pro as a primarily instinctive talent, and he left the game as an improvisational genius.

        “I didn't care for Michael personally when he first came to the league,” George Jackson said Wednesday. “I was a Laker fan. But I came to grips with it really soon. I slowly, but very surely became a Michael Jordan fan. Their team (the Bulls) epitomized what the game was all about. When you're beating Chicago and they bring up the heat, every dribble was challenged.”

        Jordan's chapter has closed, but he will long be cited as a textbook example of tenacity.

        “He was something extremely special,” Shields said. “He embodied everything offensively you would want. He would see the floor. He would step up late in close games. He made plays, he didn't force plays. He found a way to win.”

        He was a wonder to behold, and a good argument for cloning.

        Enquirer columnist Tim Sullivan welcomes your E-mail. Message him at tsullivan@enquirer.com.

MICHAEL JORDAN SPECIAL COVERAGE Today's updates and career retrospective from Associated Press

Jordan Press Conference
Jordan's opening remarks
Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf's remarks
Commissioner David Stern's remarks
Jordan Q&A: Part 1
Jordan Q&A: Part 2
Jordan Q&A: Part 3
Jordan Q&A: Part 4
SULLIVAN ARCHIVE