Michael Jordan -- boring

His Airness can play basketball until he's an old man, but there's less and less reason to care.

By King Kaufman
Published November 9, 2002 1:21AM (UTC)
main article image

This feels stupid and weird and juvenile and I keep trying to talk myself out of it, but I just can't. I'm sick of Michael Jordan.

I think it dawned on me as I was drifting off while trying to watch the second nationally televised Washington Wizards game of the first week of the season: If it weren't for that 39-year-old forward coming off the bench to average 13 points, we outside-the-Beltway folks wouldn't have to sit through so many of this mediocre team's games.

Now I know what you're thinking, because I have this new software that lets me see the e-mail you're about to send me even before you've written it. You're thinking: Oh, great, another sportswriter who can't stand the sight of one of the heroes of his youth fading with age. You're 39 years old too, and you don't want to watch this greatest of players clanging dunks, missing free throws, having his pocket picked by Ricky Davis of the Cavaliers and generally playing like a mortal.

If Jordan would just retire and stay retired -- this is still you psychoanalyzing me -- he'd remain forever young, and then you too would stay youthful, endlessly sailing in for dunks from the free-throw line, sinking championship-clinching jumpers through all the days of our lives, leaping into the arms of your teammates, triumphant and glorious ever after, even though you never did any of those things, you hack. You can't even be counted on to hit that wide-open 10-footer from the corner of the driveway. And what's the deal with that orange stocking cap?

You have a lot of thoughts.

But that's not quite it. I'm not one of those guys who begrudges aging athletes the right to play for as long as someone will pay them to do so. I don't think great players owe it to us to go out on top. None of us plans to go out on top, after all. I, for one, am fixing to linger pathetically for as long as I can, and I suspect I may have already started the process. Good for me.

I remember the lamentations over Willie Mays spoiling his legacy when he spent part of the 1973 World Series flopping around haplessly in center field in a too-tight New York Mets uniform. But three decades later, is his legacy any weaker for it? Of course not. The minute he retired, he became the Willie Mays of 1954 again, forever, the way sick old people in the movies used to morph into ghostly versions of their beautiful young selves when they died. And I don't think I was damaged psychologically by having to watch the great man fail.

No, I agree it would be juvenile and selfish for me to want Jordan to retire so that I don't have to be reminded of my own mortality or fleeing youth. I'm just sick of the guy.

There was drama and intrigue to his comeback with the Wizards last year. He'd been retired for three years and now was coming back to play for the team he'd been running as a sort of absentee general manager. Could he still be the great Air Jordan at 38? Could he turn the woeful Wiz into a respectable outfit? Would his knees carry him for an entire season?

The answers were an interesting no, yes and just barely. He wasn't the old Air Jordan, but his comeback was successful because he changed his game, became an earthbound player. His shooting and scoring were off some, but he still put in almost 23 points a game, and he collected more assists than he'd had since before his first retirement, in 1993. It was remarkable to watch him reinvent himself, to rise to one last challenge. Meanwhile, the Wizards nearly doubled their win total from the previous year, though they still finished eight games under .500 and missed the playoffs. And yes, Jordan's knees were gimpy. He only played in 60 of Washington's 82 games, and the Wizards faded from playoff contention as he sat out the last part of the season.

So this year he says his knees are better, and he and Wizards coach Doug Collins have promised that his playing time will be kept under control to minimize the pounding, but I just don't care anymore. This story has played out. Jordan's become a run-of-the-mill player, a guy who can help his team and who shows the occasional flash of brilliance, but there are plenty of guys like that. The only thing that's notable about this one is that he used to be the great Michael Jordan.

And while the Wizards may have improved themselves again this year with the trade for scorer Jerry Stackhouse, the signing of talented but underachieving would-be point guard Larry Hughes and the maturation of last year's top draft pick, 20-year-old Kwame Brown, they're still a team that can't realistically hope for better than just barely making the playoffs, then getting nuked in the first round.

In other words, the Wizards are about as interesting as the Phoenix Suns or the Miami Heat, but check the television schedule: Washington will be on national TV about as often as the Los Angeles Lakers or the Sacramento Kings. Wizards highlights, which is to say Jordan highlights, are often at or near the top of sports reports.

Am I the one who's desperately holding on to memories of my youth by wishing Jordan away, or is the national sports media, and presumably -- because TV people are pretty good at knowing what viewers want to see -- the audience, hanging on to days of old by insisting that Jordan is still the man, the must-see highlight?

Let Jordan retire or keep playing until he needs a walker for all I care. I want to move on. I want less Michael, more Tracy McGrady. On Thursday the Wizards are on TNT against the Utah Jazz, speaking of teams that have ceased to be interesting because of their aging stars. At the same time, McGrady's rising Orlando Magic will be playing the intriguing Los Angeles Clippers, but we won't see it. As a nation, we'll be dutifully admiring Michael as he comes off the bench to score 11 points in 23 minutes.

If you call me that night, leave a message. I'll be outside in the cold, my trusty orange stocking cap pulled down low, practicing 10-foot jumpers from the corner of the driveway.

King Kaufman

King Kaufman is a senior writer for Salon. You can e-mail him at king at salon dot com. Facebook / Twitter / Tumblr

MORE FROM King Kaufman

Related Topics ------------------------------------------