Now that Michael Jordan has announced his surprise retirement, there are questions about the direction his life will take and whether it ultimately will lead the NBA's biggest superstar back onto the court.
Jordan, 30, left that option open during yesterday's news conference at the Bulls' training facility in suburban Chicago.
"The word retire means that you can do anything you want to do or not do anything you don't want to," said Jordan. "Maybe that means coming back and playing. I'm not going to close that door. I don't believe in never."
Jordan emphasized that his retirement was from the NBA, adding "that doesn't mean I won't play basketball somewhere else."
While there are several avenues for him to explore -- from that of NBA ambassador in Europe to professional golfer to NBA team owner -- Jordan indicated that his primary pursuit in the coming months will be the art of doing nothing except spending more time with his family.
"In retirement, you do whatever you feel like," said Jordan, who is married and the father of three young children. "Just relax. Spend time with my family. I still have opportunities to get with my [endorsement] companies. Up until that point, I'm going to watch the grass grow, and I'm going to have to cut it."
But there are those who wonder if Jordan is going to miss the NBA's spotlight -- and the competition from friendly rivals such as Charles Barkley and Patrick Ewing -- as much as the league will miss him.
Beyond the "Be Like Mike" image that has saturated our culture, there remains one of the most competitive people in professional sports.
"If you were having a spitting contest, Michael would want to win it," Buzz Peterson said yesterday. "That just comes from the way he was raised, and being the youngest of three boys."
Peterson, a former roommate and teammate at North Carolina who remains one of Jordan's closest friends, got a telephone call from Jordan on Monday afternoon. He thought nothing of it until he heard the news at the other end of the line.
"He told me that he was retiring, and then there was about 15 seconds of silence," Peterson said yesterday from Nashville, Tenn., where he is an assistant coach at Vanderbilt. "It shocked me because I spoke to him a couple of weeks ago and he seemed fired up about the season.
"He told me then about how 'Pops' [Jordan's late father, James] had wanted him to go for a fourth straight NBA championship. I thought that he was going to dedicate the season to his father. But I think that his father's death has taken a lot out of him, which is understandable."
Peterson, who planned to spend the weekend with Jordan in Chicago, wonders what will happen once the NBA season begins.
"He's going to have to stay very busy, maybe do some traveling with his family out of the country," said Peterson. "He told me, 'I just want to lead a normal life and be able to go to a mall.' But I said to him, 'Mike, is that possible?' I have to agree with those who think he'll come back."
At his news conference yesterday, Jordan seemed to close off nearly every possible full-time career except for playing basketball and continuing as spokesman and advertising Midas for several prominent companies, including Nike and Gatorade. Those companies, he said, have extended their contracts for the next decade.
But Jordan did shoot down some possibilities:
* Appearing in high-paying exhibitions overseas, similar to what former Los Angeles Lakers superstar Magic Johnson announced will do recently. "Magic has a whole different agenda," Jordan said of his longtime rival. "He still wants to play competitively. I want to play leisurely. I want to play with smaller people. I don't want to play basketball in an exhibition situation."
* Honing his golf game for a run at the PGA Tour, the new sports celebrity tour or, perhaps, for the Senior Tour 20 years down the line. "Golf is my relaxation," said Jordan, whose handicap fluctuates in mid-to-high single digits. "I don't look at it with professional interest. My professional interest is my family. Golf is going to sap up the competitiveness that I had in basketball."
* Being part of an NBA ownership group. Johnson recently was turned down as part of a group looking to get an expansion franchise in Toronto. "That's not in my plans," Jordan said. "I don't think I have the desire to be an owner. They have to work too hard."
There was some speculation that Jordan could wind up replacing Johnson as an analyst on NBC's NBA telecasts, but a spokesman for the network said yesterday that the possibility won't be discussed for a while.
"At this point, it would be awfully presumptuous to be thinking about that -- it's only five hours since Michael announced his retirement," NBC spokesman Ed Markey said. "If that possibility would be discussed, I'm sure it would happen later rather than sooner. And given what he said at the press conference, he seems to want to stay out of the public eye."
But for how long?
Spitting contests -- and golf -- can carry a fellow only so far.