Sunday, March 31, 2002

SULLIVAN: Michael Jordan

Last chance to see the Mona Lisa?

By Tim Sullivan,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        I don't need another year from Michael Jordan. Just another week.

        If the athlete of our age decides to definitively abandon basketball at the end of the season, he can retire without regret or recrimination. Just don't let him leave before Saturday night. I've got tickets.

        The kids need to see Jordan play once in person, just so they can say they did. They need to do it Saturday night because I paid $45 a seat for nosebleeds at Washington's MCI Center.

        We'll be in Section 432, Row P. You'll know us by the oxygen masks.

        We're going to spend spring break at Grandma's and we're not coming back without a brush with greatness. Unless the Bushes invite us over for tea or, better yet, we end up as extras in a location shot for The West Wing, a glimpse of MJ is our best shot at goosebumps.

        He's near the end now, more guile than grandeur, a creaky shadow of his former self. Yet Michael Jordan is one of those rare performers whose presence is undiminished as his range declines.

        Sinatra was like that. Elvis. Maybe Mick Jagger. The list of evergreen athletes would include Muhammad Ali, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Ted Williams. The moment one of them enters a room, every head swivels. Their accomplishments might be dated, but their auras remain timeless.

        Jordan, at 39, no longer defies gravity. He missed 12 games this season because of a knee operation and is contemplating pre-emptive surgery on the other knee.

        Wizards coach Doug Collins said Wednesday he would be surprised if Jordan returned to fulfill the final year of his contract because of all the “wear and tear” his comeback has caused.

        Collins' candor since has been squelched by a management gag order. Henceforth, anyone who wishes to discuss Jordan's future had better have clearance as well as clairvoyance. Jordan's stated plan is to keep playing, to wring one more season from his matchless will. But he has given no guarantees, and he has a long history of head fakes.

        When Jordan says he's 99.9 percent positive he's done playing, that's usually a signal to ramp up production on souvenir jerseys.

        When he says, “I have all intents of living out my contract,” as he did the other day, that could be a cue to start hedging one's bets.

        Clearly, we're looking at a limited engagement here. Jordan will be 40 years old next February, and he doesn't figure to find many new gears.

        His game is no longer about improvising in mid-air but creating enough space to get off a jump shot.

        When his legs permit, he can still produce near peak efficiency. He had 51 points on a December Saturday against Charlotte, and 45 two nights later against New Jersey. But his knees are not always accommodating, and preparing to play demands an increasing proportion of his time.

        Whether Jordan wants to put himself through all of this again is speculative. But this much is sure: He's not going to be around forever.

        When I was young, my parents dragged me into Washington for a visiting art exhibit. They insisted that I see the Mona Lisa because I might never have another chance.

        That's sort of the way I feel about Michael Jordan.

        Contact Tim Sullivan at 768-8456 or e-mail:


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