|09-25-2004, 09:26 AM||#1|
Ring of Famer
Join Date: May 2003
Location: The Ville
Stephen A. Smith column on Jordan (Nice read)
Stephen A. Smith | Even after all these years, no one compares to Mr. Air
By Stephen A. Smith, Inquirer Columnist
He once leaped 10-foot rims in a single bound. He stole minds, games and hearts with such regularity that "NBA parity" became an oxymoron. Six league championships. Virtually unparalleled status as the greatest to have ever played hoops. And still, the world just can't seem to get enough of Michael Jordan.
Sadly, it's easy to see why.
We don't know whether champions are created or developed. All we know is that, whenever they arrive, we hope they won't leave us until someone else arrives in their place.
It's 2004, and we're still waiting. So that should explain all the hoopla concerning the latest supposed return of His Airness.
Contrary to what many desire, Michael Jordan is not returning to the NBA, something that was known long before he told ESPN on Thursday. He isn't coming back to play for Pat Riley, the Miami Heat or anyone else in the sport he dominated for a decade.
"I'm not going near another workout," Jordan told Michael Wilbon, just minutes before Wilbon and I cohosted Pardon the Interruption weeks ago. "Every time I go near a court, somebody throws out that rumor. I don't get it. I'm done. I'm staying on the golf course."
Jordan may be telling the truth. After all, he's about to head off to an island vacation, which is something he never did right before training camp during his illustrious career. But, evidently, he doesn't have a clue about what is going on or the reasons for the public's fascination with him these days.
The NBA, despite its adroit marketing skills, can only do so much. Especially when it has so little to work with.
Kobe Bryant has three championships. So does Shaquille O'Neal. LeBron James has superstar written all over him, and Allen Iverson, Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan are nothing to sneeze at, either. The fact is, though, despite their stellar resumes and individual greatness, none of them possesses the package Jordan presented for years.
Bryant is obviously the closest, but his once-pristine image was definitely hurt by the sexual assault charges he faced, even though the charges were dropped. The tumultuous relationship that led to the departure of the 7-foot-1, 350-pound O'Neal will always be a part of his legacy, despite his efforts to the contrary.
O'Neal is dominant and on a mission, but as long as he can't hit free throws, the belief is he'll always need tremendous assistance to gather another string of championships.
Garnett doesn't have a title yet. Neither does Jason Kidd. James might not capture one for another decade in Cleveland - assuming he elects to stay there - and Duncan, as great as he is, is just too boring and lacking in charisma for anyone outside of San Antonio to care.
Boring - when has that stigma ever been attached to Jordan?
Before he was winning titles, he was winning slam-dunk contests and leading the league in scoring. Right around the time he was en route to capturing his first championship, he was garnering attention for making the all-NBA defensive first team.
After becoming a champion, there were rumors about excessive gambling. Then came his father's murder, his first retirement, a second three-peat championship run, another retirement, a presidency with the Washington Wizards, a final retirement, and one of the most unceremonious ousters from a franchise we've seen in some time, courtesy of Wizards owner Abe Pollin.
Suspense, challenges and adversity always followed him. And we never got enough of it because he repeatedly stepped up to the challenge. We're resigned to paying today's champions less and less attention, because they all have paled in comparison to a standard Jordan set.
Somehow, despite his penchant for elevation, he would have hit a jump shot during the Athens Olympics.
Somehow, you get the feeling he would not have alienated O'Neal and coach Phil Jackson or quietly orchestrated their departure so he could have Hollywood to himself.
Somehow, the promise of championships, parades and all the acclaim that comes with them would have trumped all the egos, and the once mighty Lakers would have remained intact.
If Jordan's ability to instill heart in Scottie Pippen and to keep the theatrics of Dennis Rodman to a minimum - all while being grossly underpaid - doesn't prove as much, nothing will.
It is MJ we're talking about here.
The player who left us in awe. The man who fascinated us. The executive who disappointed us. The Hall of Famer who never cheated us.
Still wondering why we can't stop wishing for his return? Shame on you who choose to wonder at all.
Contact columnist Stephen A. Smith at 215-854-5846 or firstname.lastname@example.org.