END OF AN AIR-A 'Be Like Mike' set, both young and old, copes with rare loss

When 10-year-old Joe Geiman had his father shave his head last year, he never told him he wanted to be like Mike.

But that was the idea.


"I wanted my head bald like his," said Geiman, a fifth-grader at Friendship Valley Elementary School in Westminster. "He was the greatest, once scoring 63 points against the Celtics at the Garden. I knew there was a chance he might retire because of his father dying. It is sad."

From lunchrooms to barbershops, from schoolchildren to grandmothers, Michael Jordan's retirement yesterday stirred the emotions of sports fans.


Lori Hunter, 29, of West Baltimore, has followed Jordan's career since he starred at North Carolina. Her older sister, Rhonda Fassett, had a giant poster of Jordan on her office wall at Social Security, where she is a supervisor.

Their mother, Betty Lane, 64, collects Wheaties boxes with Jordan's picture.

"There will never be another player like him," said Hunter. "He was just one of those athletes that God gave special gifts. He wasn't arrogant, and he accepted his role as a role model, unlike Charles Barkley. We need role models like Michael Jordan for our folks.

"I'm sorry he is leaving, but I understand the personal problems he had with the death of his father. I haven't called my sister yet, but I'm sure she's very upset."

Dr. Curtis Schnorr, principal at Friendship Valley Elementary, said he has never seen such interest in an athlete. Even second- and third-graders were buzzing about it early yesterday morning.

A bunch of fifth-graders sat around a table at lunch reminiscing about their favorite Jordan characteristic.

"The Air Jordan move," said Ben Duke, 10. "That's when he would start down court, with his tongue sticking out, get up a lot of speed and just go so high. I would be watching it and just say, 'Time to get out the milk and cookies.' "

Sam Gayhart, 11, said: "He was just a good player. I like watching his moves, his dunks."


"It tells you about his status the way kids want to emulate him," said Schnorr.

Nobody, though, does it quite like Mike. Two Olympic gold medals. Three consecutive NBA championships. A record-tying seventh consecutive league scoring title.

Jordan is only 30.

"There's an old saying, 'There's nobody like nobody,' " said Leo Richardson, 33, a construction worker from Baltimore who was working off Route 32 yesterday. "I'm sure someone will one day have a game like Mike's, but no one who can take it to another level on any night like he did. I thought he had a few more good years in him, so I was kind of shocked."

Nikkia Coates, 18, a student at Westminster High, felt betrayed.

"He was stupid. He should keep going. What about all the fans and people who looked up to him as a role model?"


Natalie Chase, 17, also a student at Westminster High, lost her love.

"He was tall, bald, brown complexion. He had a big upper body and a little lower body. He was, oh, so fine."

Chantia Jefferson, 19, of Edmondson Village, was upset.

"He was in class by himself. He had the game, the personality, the beautiful smile. I don't want to talk about it anymore."

Patrons couldn't help but talk about it at the Sportsmen's Unisex barber shop in Old Town Mall. Sometimes, they still converse about Muhammad Ali, debate if he was better than Joe Louis. Jordan's retirement touched off the comparisons with Magic Johnson.

Here's one for Jordan:


"Magic used to be the best, but Jordan is the best ever," said barber John Allender, 51. "He was a complete player. Whenever I think of Michael Jordan, I think of defense. Magic was more of a playmaker, but Michael was more offensive-minded." Here's another one for Jordan:

"There are several great players that come to mind immediately, like Magic, but Michael kind of made me forget about all of them," said Bryant Peaco, a salesman from East Baltimore.

Opinions varied on why Jordan retired, but the most popular belief is that he has not gotten over the death of his father. And most of his admirers respect that.

"It just shows he is a decent man, that there is more to his life than just money," said Allender.

But make no mistake, Jordan will be missed.

Michael DePinto, 14, from Westminster High, has Jordan's third-year NBA card. He has several posters, a Jordan plaque and Chicago Bulls wallpaper.


"I'll get over it after a while. Yeah, I'll still root for the Bulls, but it won't be the same."