Jordan's Decision Slams NBA : Loss of League's Best Fuels Surprise, Shock

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

NBA players, coaches and officials were stunned by the news that Michael Jordan, who led the Chicago Bulls to three NBA titles and won seven consecutive NBA scoring titles, will announce his retirement today.

Laker forward James Worthy, who played with Jordan on North Carolina's 1982 NCAA championship team, was shocked.

"The guy's a competitor," Worthy told ESPN2. "If I had to bet, I would say that he would never retire. They'd have to throw him out of the league.

"But life is bigger than basketball. Michael is a very intelligent young man, and his being content and being happy is important to him."

Forward A.C. Green of the Phoenix Suns agreed.

"It's shocking, as James (Worthy) said," Green told ESPN2. "But at the same time, I can understand it because life is much more than dribbling a basketball. There are too many other variables in life. He has his own family, he has his mom and everyone else in that particular family, so there's a lot more going on. I can kind of sympathize with what's happening with him now."

The NBA, which enjoyed unprecedented success in the late 1980s and early 1990s due in part to the popularity of Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Jordan, has lost all three in the last 23 months.

Johnson announced in November of 1991 that he was retiring because he had contracted HIV, and Bird retired last season after playing on the Olympic team with Johnson and Jordan.

Johnson was en route to Europe on Tuesday night, but is expected to issue a statement on Jordan today.

Laker Coach Randy Pfund said that the league will develop new stars such as Shaquille O'Neil of the Orlando Magic and Larry Johnson of the Charlotte Hornets to replace Jordan, Johnson and Bird.

"The league has done a good job and has a great crop of young players coming along," Pfund said. "They have already started to take over what some of the older guys have passed along. There are good young players around and the league has plenty of good young teams. It has certainly grown beyond a one-, two- or three-player league."

Jan Hubbard, an NBA spokesman, deferred comment until after Jordan's news conference today.

"The NBA is deferring to the Bulls on this," Hubbard said. "We're aware of the press conference, but it's their show."

Tom Wilson, president of the Detroit Pistons, said the NBA will miss Jordan.

"If it's true, it will be a sad day for the entire NBA family," Wilson said. "In my mind, he's the greatest player who ever played the game, and the most special athlete I've had the pleasure of watching."

Clipper General Manager Elgin Baylor agreed.

"He's going to be missed," Baylor said. "And I think Chicago is going to miss him more than anyone. There's no doubt that he's done as much for the league as anyone who's ever played the game. He's probably done more. Michael is special."

Although Clipper Coach Bob Weiss was stunned, he speculated that Jordan's retirement might not be permanent.

"The first word that comes to mind is shock," Weiss said. "I know he's been through a lot emotionally this summer. I'd be very disappointed for him as an individual to cut his career short.

"It's also very disappointing as a member of the NBA because Michael has brought so much to the game. It's pretty much the same feeing you had when Magic and Bird retired. These guys are in a class of their own."

A former NBA player, Weiss thinks Jordan might return because he will miss the competition of the NBA.

"Having been through it as a player, you don't realize how short that time is and how precious and how great the competition is until you can't do it anymore," Weiss said. "Unfortunately, you don't learn to really appreciate that until you're away from it for a year.

"The thing about it is, if he's going to (retire) now, I could easily see him coming back in a year or half a year after he's had time to get away from it and see that he misses it. He's not doing it because of ill health or because he can't play the game anymore. He's just burned out mentally fighting for the championships and also because of the tragedy in his personal life. He just needs to get away."

Pfund said losing Jordan is a blow to the NBA.

"Obviously, it's a huge blow to the game of basketball," Pfund said. "The guy is still in his prime and he is one of, if not the, most exciting people ever to play the game. Some players come along who are just different than anybody else. And he is definitely one of those guys."

What will Jordan's loss mean to the Bulls, who have won three consecutive NBA titles?

"Obviously, it means something pretty major," Pfund said. "It's one of those things like with us with Kareem (Abdul-Jabbar) and Earvin (Johnson), when they retired. It is a situation that relates to people because of what he means to them as a leader as much as what he means to them in terms of talent.

"It would be very simple to say they are not going to be as good a team. But a major part of that is because so many teams are built around the character of a superstar."

USC basketball Coach George Raveling, who helped coach Jordan on the 1984 Olympic team, thinks Jordan might have been considering retiring for a long time.

"I would suspect that this is something that's worn on his mind for a while," Raveling said. "I reflect back to that Nike commercial where's he shooting by himself and wonders what it would be like if he wasn't Michael Jordan. I wonder if that wasn't an omen of this whole event. Maybe there's more truth to that commercial than we realize. Maybe there's a thirst in Michael to just be an everyday guy.

"Maybe the spotlight that he's in is too bright for him. I think people will be quick to say that it's because of the death of his dad. But if you know Michael Jordan, as much as he grieves the loss of his dad, there's greater substance that went into his decision than just the death of his dad. It's got to be the most difficult decision he's ever made in his life because he's walking away from the thing he loves the most next to his family."

"It's just a sad thing," Charles Barkley of the Phoenix Suns told the Associated Press. "It definitely caught me by shock. Michael Jordan is the only person in this entire world that I've ever met who is as competitive as I am. That's why I'll miss playing against him.

"The thing that bugs me is we were going to retire in the same year. We came into the league together and we wanted to leave together. Things that happened this summer changed that. It disappoints me . . . but I just want Michael to be happy."

* MAIN STORY: Michael Jordan, saying "it's time for me to move on to something else," will announce his retirement from basketball this morning. A1

* ANALYSIS: The decision is not a surprise to those who have watched Jordan struggle with his celebrity. C9

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