When he heard the news Wednesday morning, D'Mond Carrington felt like shedding a tear. So did his buddies at Chatsworth High School.
"Me and my friends were talking about it, and we said, 'Man, can you imagine basketball without him?' " Carrington asked.
Clearly, they couldn't.
But Michael Jordan, who for many people transcended the game of basketball to become a cultural icon, had announced his retirement from the Chicago Bulls. He simply lacked the desire to continue playing, Jordan said. At pick-up games and school yards across the San Fernando Valley, his young admirers were saddened, disappointed and, occasionally, sympathetic.
"My heart sank," said Taft High School junior Rachel Martinez. "Michael Jordan--that's just the man. "
Echoing the sentiments of many high school students who grew up with Michael Jordan, Taft basketball players Johnny Williams and Montoya Washington said they thought the three-time NBA most valuable player should continue to play.
"I think he shouldn't have come out so early," said Williams, Taft's starting center last season. "He should have stayed at least five more years and won some more championships."
Washington, a guard for Taft, said he hoped the killing of Jordan's father, James, on July 23 did not influence the player's decision.
"I think he should keep playing," Washington said as he and friends stood in front of the school Wednesday afternoon. "I think that's what his father would have wanted him to do."
Although Jordan, 30, said his decision was based on a lack of desire to continue playing, many students thought that James Jordan's death figured prominently in his son's retirement after leading the Bulls to their third consecutive NBA title.
"That was his motivation," said Nevillette Curtis, 13, a Taft freshman. "I think it's good he can retire. I think it's better for him, with his dad dead."
Ricky Steele, a senior forward on Taft's basketball team, said mounting pressures probably helped drive Jordan from the game. "I can understand where he's coming from because everybody was in his business," Steele said.
"The media was in his face every day," Washington added.
Others agreed that the slaying of his father, suffocating media scrutiny and the widespread attention paid to his rumored gambling problem last season were sufficient reasons for the man, called by many the greatest basketball player ever, to retire while still at his basketball peak.
"If I would have to live that kind of life with no breathing room. . . . he has all the money and his family," said Manny Romero, 27, while shooting baskets at Balboa Park. "Why stay with that kind of life when he can step away and spend it with his family? With his father dying, I think he learned a lesson. What else is there? It's a shock for everyone, but I think he made the right move. I would have done the same thing."
At Crespi High School in Encino, freshman Luke Ehret, 14, agreed that Jordan had good reasons to quit despite being at the peak of his game. "But I think he should do something else, like play in another league, something else for the kids," he said.
Fellow Crespi freshman Jimmy Rose, 14, thought that Jordan's larger-than-life status would probably remain intact.
"I have a lot of friends who are really upset," said Rose. "It might let some people down because he's a super-hero type and he quit, but I think most people will still believe in him."
Jordan left open the possibility that he might return to the NBA and opinion was divided on whether he would come back in the future.
"I think he's going to miss the sport," said Taft's Williams.
"I think he's just going to take a year off to calm down from his father's death," Chatsworth junior Trevor Schmidt said. "Then he'll be back."
Others wondered if they'll have to be content with memories of the man who was basketball.
"I've been watching him since I was 9," said Taft freshman Thomas Meadows, 15. "I'm going to miss watching his moves. He's just the baddest."