Retirement just as shocking as Jordan's play


I am sorry Michael Jordan is done playing basketball, because I am not done watching him. Not even close. And I don't think I'm alone.

This is pure selfishness on our part, of course. We got the spectacular spectating, while Jordan got the bumps and bruises, the storm-the-Bastille treatment every time he walked into a mall, the assault-and-battery treatment every time he stepped onto the court, the critiques of his lifestyle and the nightly evaluations of his worth as a human being.

* Michael Jordan scored 50 points tonight in a Bulls' playoff victory, but his teammates are saying Jordan's ball-hogging is ruining the Bulls' offense . . .

* Michael Jordan was held to 21 points tonight in a losing effort and his teammates say they need Michael to step up and take the scoring load. By the way, Jordan also had 14 assists and 11 rebounds . . .

It seems perfectly logical, even noble, that Jordan would say, "The hell with it. I've got back-to-back-to-back NBA championships on top of a Dream Team gold medal.

"I've got the money, I've got the records, I've got the highlight films. Nobody plays forever. I'd rather golf. I'm through."

I hope it's an easy transition for Jordan, basketball player to civilian. But it's not going to be easy for us, the awestruck Jordan-watchers.

We are programmed. Our superstars fade away, most not so gloriously at the end. They sort of stumble a bit as they get older, and they pass the torch and ease out of the picture.

Jordan, it's like he jumped off a cliff. He had been talking about retirement, but what great athlete doesn't? They get sick of the whole thing, then they get away a month or two, realize how much it means to them, how good it feels to do what only they can do, and they scurry back with a wink or a sheepish smile, playing out the string.

Not Jordan, and I guess it's appropriate that his retirement is almost as shocking as his career, almost as shocking as the way he scored his zillion points.

But I am not ready. I spent a month last summer covering the Eastern Conference finals and the NBA Finals, and it was a month of the greatest one-man show on earth. It was like a Jordan-watchers' Club Med.

But it wasn't enough, and I'm afraid basketball after Jordan will never be quite the same.

I remember after Game 3 of those NBA Finals, Jordan mentioning -- not complaining, but observing -- that his legs were dead tired.

This, one might think, would be bad news for a guy who had played hard with hardly a break for over a year, who had carried his team through a trench-warfare series against the Knicks and who had been under public scrutiny and criticism for everything from his blackjack habits to his loyalty to his sneaker company.

Yes, he had scored 44 points in Game 3. But Jordan was tired, beat up, weary, fed up, burned out, frazzled, fried. His legs were tired. In basketball, tired legs are bad.

Did Michael Jordan have anything left?

I was sitting courtside for Game 4 and made one of those rare wise decisions. At halftime, some of the writers went downstairs to watch the rest of the game on TV monitors.

The courtside views were somewhat obstructed, and TV offered replays and analysis.

I thought about heading down into the Chicago Stadium basement, then told myself, "Wait a minute. Michael Jordan might go for 50. You can watch it on TV or you can sit right here and feel the wind as he spins Dan Majerle like a top on his way to the hoop. Thirty years from now, are you going to tell your grandkids about the time you watched Jordan score 50 on TV?"

I stayed and he didn't score 50. He scored 55, shot 21 of 37 from the floor. Just absolutely amazing, though not at all unexpected.

Someone asked Jordan if this had been his greatest game ever in the NBA Finals.

"No," he said, "I think my best game's always been the last game. Yeah, I consider this one of my greatest, but I've yet to see the greatest."

I was kind of hoping he would stick around and show us that one.

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