Jordan proves risk to reputation worth it
Anybody who wanted to take a chance but backed away because he was afraid of what people would say should consider Michael Jordan.
Jordan's body, and his scrimmages with NBA stars, told him he wouldn't be what he was when he left the league. At 38, and after three seasons away from basketball, he knew he wouldn't be the quickest player on the court, or even the quickest player on the court his size. He knew he wouldn't plant his foot near the free-throw line and soar to the basket, knew he would be called "Air" only by fans with superior memories.
I saw him at his unveiling, a Washington Wizards practice game at UNC Wilmington. I knew Jordan wouldn't move the way he had, but knowing and seeing are different. For three seasons at North Carolina and 13 with the Chicago Bulls, he had imposed his athleticism on everybody who got in his way. Now he was almost complementary. He needed help, and who on the Wizards would provide it?
Many fans - and sportswriters - lobbied against his return. They wanted not only to preserve Jordan's final game, in which he left his shooting hand extended after hitting the winning shot and scoring his 44th and 45th points in the NBA championship-clinching victory against Utah. They wanted to preserve him.
They were fine with Jordan selling underwear and sports drinks, smoking cigars and gambling, putting on a suit and helping run the Washington Wizards. They're easy. He could do anything he wanted as long as he didn't play. If they needed to see him on the court, somebody could always fetch a tape.
Jordan didn't want to risk his reputation, either. It has to be tough for him to concede he can't do what he could. It's tough for anybody who ever played a sport to take the long, slow slide into middle age. But the rest of us were once great only in our minds. Jordan can prove he was great.
Early this season, the little things he did that might nudge a decent team such as the Charlotte Hornets, whom the Wizards play tonight at the Charlotte Coliseum, to victory were not enough. Some nights, Jordan looked as if instead of going to the bench, he should go to a recliner with a blanket and a remote. This could not be fun.
So why would he come back? The real question is, why wouldn't he? Jordan has always loved playing ball and he had always loved a challenge, and he thought he probably would again. So he came back.
Now the Wizards have the league's longest winning streak, and if he's not having fun, he's a better actor than his commercials imply. He even has rookie Brendan Haywood doing something he never did in four seasons in Chapel Hill: sweat.
I salute Jordan. Everybody was watching, and many hoped he would fail. And he still might. But at least he tried. At least he won't spend the rest of his life wondering what might have been. At least he didn't allow the criticism and concerns of outsiders to keep him from doing what he wanted.
In this context, we really can be like Mike. But only if we find the courage.