The World of Sports Won't Be the Same

Michael Jordan will never shoot another basketball.

Never again will he hover above the rim with a single bound. Never again will he twist and shout, tongue hung out. Never again will he lace up shoes bearing his own name and uniform No. 23 with the baby bull emblem along the side. Never again will he score and score and score some more.

Game's over.

We lose.

Oct. 6, 1993, is a day not to be soon forgotten here in Chicago, the city of big shoulders that holds Michael Jeffrey Jordan aloft in celebration of all he has done. This was supposed to be a day people were talking about what the Chicago White Sox did on opening night of the American League playoffs--they lost, 7-3--and how they would do against Toronto in this afternoon's Game 2.

Instead, this is the day Jordan will confirm that he will abdicate from the throne of professional basketball, putting an end to a once-in-a-lifetime career and to the Bulls' possibilities, very likely, of winning four NBA championships in a row.

Never again will Scottie Pippen or Horace Grant play at his side. Never once will Toni Kukoc know the feeling of being Jordan's teammate now that he has abandoned his role as Europe's top player and joined the Chicago team.

Never again will witnesses to basketball greatness see an NBA game involving Magic Johnson, Larry Bird or Michael Jordan, three men who divvied up America into thirds--West, East and Midwest--but won hearts wherever they went.

Unless Michael changes his mind.

He went home one last night Tuesday to sleep on his decision, which is to be announced at 8 a.m., Pacific time, today at the Sheri L. Berto Center in the Chicago suburb of Deerfield, where he and the Bulls train. Jordan and his coach, Phil Jackson, each separately confirmed that at 30, still very much in his prime, the world's most famous basketball player had concluded that he had played enough.

Few saw it coming.

When, in fact, whispers began that Jordan was contemplating retirement, the buzz here was that he might soon announce his intention to play only one more season. But the thought of afarewell tour and the commotion it might create, day in, day out over an 82-game season and subsequent playoffs, might have been more than Jordan was able to bear.

His enthusiasm began to wane upon the accomplishment of his goal to win a professional championship, the only thing separating him from Johnson, Bird and other NBA greats. After emerging triumphant from 1991's NBA championship series against the Lakers, there was very little left for Michael to win.

It was this columnist's odd pleasure to be pinned inside Jordan's locker inside the Forum's visiting clubhouse that night, as Michael, weeping, wiped his eyes on the shoulders of his father, James Jordan, who hugged him close.

"Daddy," he said, sobbing.

"What, son?" James asked.

"I've done it all now," Michael said.

James Jordan stroked the bald scalp of his son, reflecting in the bright shine of the NBA championship trophy, and said to him in a voice almost no one else could hear:

"Nothing more for you to prove."

In time, it became clear that the pressures of public hero worship were getting to Michael, that he was leading an Elvis-like existence that kept him sequestered inside hotel rooms, dining from room service, unable to take three steps beyond the room without being met head-on by someone shrieking his name or asking his time.

Golf was Jordan's great escape, the one place where he could luxuriate outdoors, away from the crowds, and not only relax but remain competitive. Michael freely acknowledged that he gambled on golf, denying only the eyebrow-raising stakes that were reported by more than one man who had played with him.

When asked if his son had a gambling problem, James Jordan's widely quoted answer was: "No, he's got a competition problem."

But after his father was found dead, the victim of a savage crime of unclear motive, Michael rarely surfaced in public. Those who knew him said it would take him months to recover, if indeed he could ever recover from such a harrowing experience.

The joy had gone out of Michael Jordan's life.

Now it has gone out of ours.

There is only one consolation to our knowledge that we will never see Michael Jordan play basketball again. The consolation is to say that we got to see him play at all.

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