Air Quality: Page 2 remembers MJ
Page 2 columnists

As Michael Jordan prepares to play his final NBA game (we think!) Wednesday night in Philadelphia, Page 2 asked some of its columnists to reflect on His Airness.

Here are their quick takes on a legend:

Simmons: Maybe he's not done yet
By Bill Simmons
Page 2 columnist

I'm not questioning the comeback, I'm questioning the motives. We know these last two seasons in Washington were all about ego, somebody who was so good, he earned the right not to let go. But what did Michael Jordan really accomplish here?

Michael Jordan
Is it an honor to be the greatest 40-year-old ever to play in the NBA?
He was the greatest 40 year-old player ever, whatever that means. There were some game-winning shots, even more game-losing misses, and more than a few awkward moments. The Wizards weren't any better off than before he arrived. He spent his final week running around in a retro Bullets jersey, looking like somebody had won his services in an eBay auction or something. And wherever you stood on the subject of "The greatest player ever demeaning himself by wasting two years on a hopelessly mediocre team," he managed to remain compelling at all times, simply because he was MJ.

Of course, none of it added up. Season One was about teaching the kids. That didn't work, so Season Two was about making the playoffs. That didn't work, either. And here's what bothered me: You have the most competitive athlete of his generation, a guy who would have ripped Kwame Brown's heart out of his chest "Temple Of Doom"-style back in the day, and he's suddenly content to waste away his waning years with this motley crew? It was like Garry Shandling folding the great "Larry Sanders Show," then coming back three years later to launch a sitcom with Mario Lopez and the Olson Twins.

For God's sake, this was MJ, the guy who always needs to be in the middle of the action, sleeps three hours a night, gambles until 7 a.m., plays 36 holes of golf like he's ripping through a mini-golf course ... you're telling me he was happy these last two seasons? And you're telling me that we should have endorsed watching him work a pick-and-roll with Jahidi White, or watching his team getting their butts kicked by 45 points in Sacramento? These things shouldn't happen, not to him.

Only one story makes sense, a rumor that has been floating around ever since the summer of 2001: The Wizards promised Jordan that, if he played two seasons, they would hand over a majority ownership of the team. Sounds crazy? Well, so does the thought of MJ wasting two seasons on a run-of-the-mill franchise, for the veteran's minimum, no less. Here's a guy who thrives on making money, the first athlete to turn himself into a cottage industry, and now he's handing out discounts? Please.

Jordan should have been playing for a contender like San Antonio, getting Stephen Jackson's minutes, contributing to the best team in the league, maybe even taking over a few games. Instead, he wasted his gifts on a team that was clearly beneath him, even at this stage of his career. For the ultimate competitor, he certainly didn't seem to mind going out with a whimper. And that's why I still think we haven't heard the last of him. Stay tuned.

Murphy: Raise a pint for MJ
By Brian Murphy
Page 2 columnist

In the summer of 1992, I was living in Ireland. I was so far removed from the NBA Finals, that if I mentioned the name "Michael Jordan" to any of my neighbors, co-workers in O'Donoghue's Pub or Guinness-swilling roommates, they'd nod and say: "Aw, sure. The Jordan lad. Lovely hurler for County Clare."

But back in '92, I needed a dose of our Michael Jordan. The guy with the tongue hanging out. The guy with the baggy shorts. The guy with the jump shot that snapped nets, and made a sound like no other.

Michael Jordan
Members of the '92 Portland team are still shaking their heads.
So it was that I noticed in the fine print of the TV pages of the Irish Times that Sky Sports, a fledgling British sports network, had agreed to show the NBA Finals. They would be broadcast live, for any insomniacs, ne'er-do-wells or cat burglars who wanted to see the Portland Trail Blazers and the Chicago Bulls -- at 3 o'clock in the morning.

I buzzed with anticipation that night, slogging through another insulting shift at the pub, where the owner paid poverty-level wages and scowled when he did it. No matter. I was headed home with a few cans of lager, and a dose of Americana awaited. I couldn't have imagined what ensued.

The first 3-pointer. The next. The next. The next. The next. When the sixth of the first half rained home, I yelped in delight. What a gift from home, after months and months isolated in a pre-Internet world! My roommate, Brian McInerney, awoke at the noise. He scurried downstairs, thinking the house was on fire. There he stood, in boxer shorts and with bed-head, staring at me. "You don't understand!" I said, pleading my case for invading his sleep. "What this guy is doing ...!"

He didn't understand. But he saw the replay and saw this Michael Jordan, in slow-motion, shrug his shoulders, palms outstretched, saying, in effect: "Sometimes, even I don't understand."

Brian Mc sensed something special, even in those strange circumstances, with the ink-black sky outside and the American game on the TV inside. So he took a can of lager, opened it, and settled in to the couch.

Michael Jordan had made another fan.

Wiley: Beyond words
By Ralph Wiley
Page 2 columnist


I said it, not because it was the right word, or even a word; I said it because it just came out, just like that "Gahhhd-damn!" Dog said. Said it because of the move ...

Michael Jordan
Stockton's abilities were no match for his fellow member of the NBA Class of '84.
Mike. Reversing from out of the deep corner, leaving some merely NBA-quality point guard standing flatfooted, facing the other way, outclassed; dead; a monster step, then dunking, hard, over two others, including a 7-footer with hops, then landing softly, into a slight, poised crouch, ready to threaten the in-bounds pass, never letting up, only seeming to let up to get you to let up, then ... Bam! ... while hinting at a contemptuous sneer, daring them not to like it ...

... nothing else for either one of us to say. Speechlessness no option either. Jordan compelled guttural sounds from us all. These were our ultimate, involuntary compliments ...

"Damn, Mike," I said, around 1995, "is there no one on this planet who can challenge you?" Juanita shook her head. It was the way she shook it, as if to say, "You didn't know? How could you not know? Look at him ..."

Of those players drafted with MJ in '84, Akeem Olajuwon won two NBA titles, Charles Barkley became legend, John Stockton became the NBA all-time assist leader ... all in his wake! Drafting off him ...

In a word, describe Color. Music. Michael Jordan.

Tell me, pilgrim ... what words would those be?

Caple: No fear of failure
By Jim Caple
Page 2 columnist

I'm one of the few reporters who saw Michael Jordan fail more often than he succeeded.

Because I spent so much of his career covering baseball, and because I always lived in a city that did not belong in his NBA conference, I only saw Jordan play basketball in person twice. But I did see him play baseball several times in spring training.

Michael Jordan
When MJ took to the diamond he showed he was human.
He wasn't that bad. He could get his bat on the ball. He could run. He could field a little. He didn't have any power though, and he struggled as much with the curveball as thousands of other minor-leaguers did. Eventually he gave up and returned to basketball. He blamed it on the strike, but that was a canard. He just realized he wasn't good enough and didn't have enough time to get better.

But at least he tried. And that's the point Sports Illustrated missed when it used its cover to tell him, "Bag it, Michael.'' He tried. And for me, that told me all I really needed to know about Jordan. He was the greatest player of his generation in one sport ... and that wasn't enough. He was so competitive, so athletic and so driven that, after mastering one sport, he simply had to try his hand at another, even if it cost him millions and brought him ridicule.

Sure, Jordan failed on the diamond, but that determination to succeed in everything is the reason he was so great on the court.

Keown: Into thin Air
By Tim Keown
Page 2 columnist

A memory of Michael Jordan, the athlete? How about this: He was the first international superstar in the era of 24-hour sports, and he showed every future international superstar how to craft an image without allowing anything remotely human to get in the way.

This is a convoluted question, but has there ever been a more public person that we knew less about than Jordan? What we know is like a shadow passing by a window -- fleeting, sketchy and not altogether believable.

Michael Jordan
Thanks to the birth of 24-hour sports, everyone knows MJ.
Some might say Jordan's true genius was on the court, and of course his impact was undeniable. But I say his master stroke came off the court, where he let the image-makers and profiteers mold his persona to a carefully sculpted, universally palatable concoction. Or, more to the point, confection. He was all things to all people, utterly innocuous and eternally welcome.

Nike, Gatorade, Hanes -- they all helped Michael Jordan become Michael Jordan. But as he leaves again, what do we know about him? What do we know of him? That he's competitive to the point of obsession, proud to the point of obstinacy, elusive to the point of transparency.

But who is he? That's tougher. Mostly, well, I guess you'd say he's a friend of the family. Every family.

The player, inevitably, is done.

The image is immortal.

Neel: Gotta hand it to him
By Eric Neel
Page 2 columnist

I'll remember the hands. I'll think of the 1991 NBA Finals and that flip-the-script layup over ... was it Sam Perkins? I don't remember. All I remember are the hands -- supple, vicious, prestidigitatious, moving the ball from side to side and then up and in.

They could have dunked, but that would have been crass, common, trite. They could have dunked but that wouldn't have made Laker fans shrivel and whine, wouldn't have made Marv Albert blow a gasket. No, they had other, more wicked intentions than dunking. They wanted the brass ring, yeah, but they wanted to do damage along the way, too.

I look at the tape now, and I know they put the ball in the bucket, but what they really did was put a dagger in Magic's heart.

Michael Jordan
Jordan helped Perkins win a title in college, but took one away in the NBA.
I hated those hands. I hate them still. I hold them in awe, and I hate them. I fear them, I think they are brilliant and beautiful, and I hate them.

I'll remember the face, too. I look up "gravitas," and I see the face. I hum a few bars of "Eye of the Tiger," I see the face.

Lip curled, eyes trained. Hungry. Fierce. Unflappable.

It's the face of DeNiro's Capone, of the Duke in "The Searchers," George C. doing Patton, and Duvall loving the smell of napalm in the morning.

For years, guys couldn't bare to look at him, because they knew their own mugs would twitch like Diane, quiver like Bert Lahr before the great and powerful Oz.

Is anyone -- are any of the young lions -- ready to take the place of the face? Kobe has a look. AI sports a serious glare. Garnett's face is game, no doubt. But can they match him? I don't see it. Not tonight, anyway.

Hruby: The perfect pitch
By Patrick Hruby
Special to Page 2

Forget the myth. Never mind the man. What I'll remember most about Michael Jordan -- besides his inexplicable, maddening absence from the original "NBA Jam" -- is the sheer amount of buy-it-today stuff: the megabuck sneakers, the plump 'n' juicy frankfurters, the signature, limited edition Palm Pilot.

In short, the merchandise.

Michael Jordan
There has never been an athlete with as much crossover power as Jordan.
And not just any merchandise, either. After all, anyone can sell shoes, underwear, collect calls and cool, refreshing sports drinks. Witness Terry Bradshaw. It takes a special kind of endorsement superstar, however, to hawk products that nobody needs or wants, items that lesser athletes wouldn't dream of pitching, even in Japan.

In this regard -- and in so many other regards, outside of hitting a curveball -- MJ delivered in spades. Who else could parlay basketball prowess into selling AA batteries? Transform a smelly, sweaty occupation into a best-selling cologne?

To put it another way: All three of Shaquille O'Neal's cartoonishly laughable films ("Blue Chips," "Kazaam," "Steel") made substantially less than a Jordan flick that was mostly a cartoon ("Space Jam," which grossed more than $200 million worldwide).

Granted, there were failures. popped along with the rest of the dot-com bubble. And who can forget -- without the help of hypnotherapy -- the unspeakably lame video game "Chaos in the Windy City"? (Flaming basketballs? You cannot be serious!)

Still, MJ's occasional marketing missteps only underscore the bottom line: Jordan soared where others feared to tread. Besides, the man never needed to be paired with Teri Hatcher in order to seem charismatic. Let alone ALF. And for that, I salute him.


Neel: The last shot

The Sports Guy: Holding our breath for Air

Wiley: Last breath of Air

Wiley: MJ vs. Kobe @ age 22

Being Michael Jordan, part 2

Being Michael Jordan, part 1

Wiley: Catch 23

Rosen: MJ's 40,000-mile service

Critical Mass: MJ's ready for his close-up

Sportoon, April 3: To Air is human

Simmons: Memo to MJ: Just do it!

Halberstam: Say it ain't so, Mike

Jordan: A perfectionist who worries a lot

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