DEERFIELD, ILLINOIS — DEERFIELD, Ill. -- He retired, but he didn't rule out a comeback. He said his father's death wasn't the impetus, but his most moving words were about his dad. He insisted the media didn't drive him away from the game, but he didn't miss a chance to jab at reporters during yesterday's news conference.
Michael Jordan is leaving in his prime, and he made it clear that he is leaving on his own terms.
More than 400 reporters gathered at the Chicago Bulls' training facility in suburban Chicago to hear Jordan say that he is retiring because he has nothing left to prove on the basketball court.
Jordan, 30, appeared resolute with his decision and relieved that it had been made. He also said, several times, that being able to escape the media crush was the one thing he was looking forward to the most.
"Getting away from you guys," Jordan replied when asked the first time. "This is probably the first time I've seen this many [media] people without a scandal."
Later, in response to another question, Jordan quipped: "I hope I don't see too many of you guys in the future."
In the past year, Jordan criticized media coverage of his gambling habits, which had been investigated by the NBA. He lashed out in anger this past summer after some media reports linked his father's murder to Jordan's gambling.
James Jordan was killed July 23 during a robbery attempt on a North Carolina roadside. Two teen-agers were charged with murder after his body was found in a creek.
"I am trying to deal with the overwhelming feelings of loss and grief in a way that would make my dad proud," Jordan said in a statement released several days after the death. "I simply cannot comprehend how others could intentionally pour salt in my open wound by insinuating that faults and mistakes in my life are in some way connected to my father's death."
Yesterday, however, Jordan said that neither his treatment by the media nor his father's death prompted his retirement.
"I talked to confidantes, family and friends," said Jordan, "and I'm very solid in my decision not to play basketball in the NBA.
"It's time for me to move away. I feel I don't have anything else to prove. There's nothing else to accomplish," said Jordan, who also won two Olympic gold medals and an NCAA championship.
"My father advised me, frankly, to retire after we won the first championship," said Jordan. "After the third championship [last spring] we talked again, and I was leaning in that direction. I would have made the same decision if he was alive. The one consolation I have is that he saw me play my last basketball game.
"I've been contemplating it since the season ended. When he died, it put a different emphasis on my life, but it didn't alter my decision."
Jordan said there was a twofold reason for the timing of his announcement, one day before the opening of Bulls' training camp.
"It was a matter of waiting until this time, when basketball was near, to see if my heart would change," he said. "The desire was not there.
"Plus it was important for the team. I'm still looking forward to watching this team be successful. And it's important for the team to get on its own two feet right away."
If there was a deciding factor in his thinking, Jordan said, it was a conversation he had with Bulls coach Phil Jackson. "I asked Phil if he felt there was anything left for me to prove," said Jordan. "When he thought about it and didn't say anything, that was all I needed."
But Jordan hedged when asked if a comeback could be ruled out.
"The word retire means that you can do anything you want to do or not do anything you don't want to," he said. "Maybe that means coming back and playing. I'm not going to close that door."
"I'm sure I'll miss it, but whether I'll miss it enough to come back, I can't answer that. If five years from now the urge comes and the Bulls and David Stern and the NBA will have me, then I'll come back."
Stern, commissioner of the NBA, said yesterday that Jordan's retirement will not end an investigation into his alleged gambling.
During this year's Eastern Conference finals against the New York Knicks, Jordan was criticized for taking a trip to an Atlantic City, N.J., casino with his father the night before a game. Later, San Diego businessman Richard Esquinas, an admitted gambler, said that Jordan lost $1.25 million to him in golf wagers.
"I have stated previously that I planned to meet with Michael Jordan prior to the start of the season to discuss his off-court activities," Stern said. "Michael has indicated to me that it is important that we go forward with the meeting in order to complete the matter."
Although he is the NBA's most identifiable personality, Jordan and Stern said the league won't be devastated by his loss.
"A lot of guys [other players] have tried to make me like an ambassador for the NBA, but I haven't agreed to that role," said Jordan. "There are enough stars to pick up the slack."
Stern agreed. "Do you replace somebody who might have been the best to ever play the game? No, but you close ranks," said Stern, who pointed out that Jordan didn't rule out a return.
"He said that right now he didn't have any hunger," said Stern. "I told him if he develops an appetite, he has our phone number -- we're in the book."