Wednesday, August 29, 2001

Hey, Michael: Just do it




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        Michael Jordan has nothing to lose. Repeat: Nothing. If he should return to professional basketball, it cannot diminish what he's done already. No more than a new manuscript by J.D. Salinger would diminish The Catcher In The Rye. No more than Diagnosis Murder diminishes The Dick Van Dyke Show.

        Jordan's records are safe. His impact is indelible. His reputation is beyond reproach.

        If he decides he needs a new challenge more than he needs to preserve an old image, who are we to stand in his way? Who are we to tell the greatest player in history that he should stick to his desk job because he might no longer be what he once was?

        Answer: We don't.


What Jordan decides to do with his life is his call and our cue. If he elects to make a second comeback, this time with the Washington Wizards, all we really need to know is how to get tickets. If Jordan can get good enough to meet his own stringent standards — and this is by no means assured in light of his rib injury — he's good enough to compete in the NBA.

Hail the aging hero

        If that's not enough to suit Charles Barkley, so be it.

        “I don't want him to do it,” Barkley told ESPN.com on Sunday. “I don't want the press to have the right to criticize him. I don't want them to have that luxury. They'll expect him to play like Michael Jordan, and he can't do that.

        “He's the greatest basketball player who ever lived and he can't compete against that. There's nothing positive for him to gain by coming back.”

        That depends on your perspective. If every athlete quit at the top of his game, John Elway would never have won a Super Bowl.

        There is no more stirring story in sports than the last hurrah of an aging hero. Plus, there are still people who have never had the privilege of seeing Jordan play in person. (Note to wife: The Wizards are at Indianapolis on Thanksgiving. Honey, you may have to hold the turkey.)

Compete, not reminisce

        The whole debate is a little puzzling, really. Some of the guys who would have donated kidneys for front-row seats at a Bulls game will tell you Jordan should stay retired because he can't possibly improve on his last goodbye — the championship-clinching shot against the Utah Jazz.

        Yet life is mainly about making memories, not preserving them, and Jordan would rather compete than reminisce. How hard is that to understand? Nolan Ryan threw his seventh no-hitter at age 44. Jack Nicklaus won his sixth Masters at 46. Both men are defined by their endurance as well as their excellence.

        Jordan, at 38, is a comparative child. If pro basketball demands more of a man than baseball or golf — more agility, more speed, more jet lag — it has never produced a player better equipped to cope.

        When Jordan ended his first retirement, he returned a different player than people remembered. There was less of the old aerial acrobatics but more shooting range; less style, more craft. It was like seeing Olivier as King Lear after you'd seen his Hamlet. Jordan had not declined but evolved.

        When he left basketball the second time, he was still its best player. Whatever he is now is worth seeing.

        E-mail tsullivan@enquirer.com. Past columns at Enquirer.com/columns/sullivan.

       



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