NEW YORK -- Michael Jordan, basketball's pre-eminent player and the world's best-known athlete, will retire from the NBA for the second time in five years, according to three officials in the NBA with knowledge of Jordan's plans. They said last night they expected the Chicago Bulls star to make an announcement tomorrow at a news conference in Chicago.
Jordan's retirement also was reported last night by the Associated Press, USA Today and Denver Post.
Jordan's future has been the biggest issue in basketball in the wake of the bitter labor dispute that ended last week after an impasse that lasted six months and wiped out the early part of the season. Aside from his athletic and entertainment value to the league, he was viewed as a cultural icon and ambassador for the sport who would help bridge the gap to disenchanted fans.
Jordan has not made a public statement regarding his plans since the lockout ended, and his agent, David Falk, would say little last night.
"Until he announces whether he is retiring or returning, anything else is speculation," Falk told the AP.
The Bulls also declined to comment. But the three officials said the decision had been made and the news conference would be at the United Center.
Recently, more signs had pointed to the game's most prominent star retiring again at the age of 35.
Falk had not held any contract discussions with the Bulls, and Jordan had not been working out. In addition, an editor of a new book by Jordan, "For the Love of the Game: My Own Story," acknowledged that the publisher was counting on Jordan's retirement when it decided to publish the book last fall and had received positive signals to that effect from Jordan.
Decisions delayed for Bulls
His failure to make a decision had delayed personnel decisions for the Bulls, who won six league titles with Jordan as their leader. The Bulls have only four players under contract, and most of the components from Chicago's championship team were in limbo because Jordan was the team's priority.
He would have secured a contract worth about $37 million for the shortened season that is scheduled to begin Feb. 5, pro-rated over 50 games instead of the usual 82. Without Jordan's salary, Bulls officials will have more money to sign two of their prominent free agents, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman.
But conversely, Jordan's absence may be a factor in whether they want to return to the Bulls. Jordan and Pippen have been an All-Star tandem throughout the Bulls' championship run -- Jordan calls Pippen his "little brother" -- and Pippen might opt to play elsewhere if he concludes the Bulls' glory days will end when Jordan's career does.
Jordan's history of changing direction in his professional life leaves open the possibility that he could return -- if not this season, then possibly the following year. He retired for the 1993-1994 season and embarked on a pro baseball career, saying he was finished with basketball. But he ended a floundering career in baseball's minor leagues in the spring of 1995 to return to basketball for the latter part of the season.
Jordan led the league in scoring 10 times, the most ever. His 31.5 points per game over his career is the highest regular-season average in NBA history, higher than Wilt Chamberlain's 30.1 average. He was the league's most valuable player five times, and the All-Star Game MVP three times. In 179 playoff games, he has averaged 33.4 points, 6.4 rebounds and 5.7 assists.
Carrying the league into the post-Magic Johnson and Larry Bird era with aplomb, his incredible accomplishments on the floor are only paralleled by his commercial success off it.
Since the Bulls selected him with the third pick in the 1984 draft out of the University of North Carolina, he has graduated from amazing athlete to corporate pitch man to world champion and, finally, to cultural icon.
Fortune magazine last June estimated Jordan's financial contributions to the NBA at $10 billion.
Except for participating in one or two early negotiating sessions, Jordan was not a presence in the labor talks that culminated with last week's agreement. He instead has been seen indulging his passion -- golf -- in places like the Bahamas, and Jordan's Bulls teammates acknowledge that he had not been consistently working out and getting in prime physical shape -- a prerequisite for Jordan every year during the off-season.
"He hasn't been preparing, that's the biggest reason I think he's not coming back," said Steve Kerr, a Bulls guard. "Michael hasn't told me anything yet."
Jordan last week was on vacation in the Bahamas, and it was unclear whether he had returned home.
Leaving on high note
Jordan would be leaving the game on the highest note possible. He led the Bulls to their third championship in three seasons last June 16, carrying Chicago to its sixth title in eight seasons with a dramatic 40-second sequence in the clinching Game 6 victory over the Utah Jazz.
He hit the game-winning shot with 5.3 seconds left, an 18-foot jump shot that left a stunned gathering at the Delta Center in Salt Lake City. It was the final blow as the Bulls beat the Jazz for the second season in a row in six games to win the championship.
But his retirement would be the linchpin decision in the disassembling of the Bulls. "The No. 1 objective we have here as a franchise is to bring Michael Jordan back, to bring the championship team back," Bulls general manager Jerry Krause had said. "When Michael lets us know what he's going to do, certainly, if he comes back, we intend to make a very concerted and very serious effort to bring the rest of the championship team back."
The first departure was the coach, Phil Jackson, who left the franchise after the Bulls won the title in June, saying he would take an extended sabbatical from the game before returning.
Jordan had said all last season he would not play for another coach, but seemed to be backing off that stance in the off-season. But with the league recovering from the most damaging period in its 52-year history, the thinking is that perhaps Jordan did not want to be associated with a tainted image of the NBA.
Pub Date: 1/12/99