Michael Jordan, saying that “the desire is just not there any more,” announced his retirement from the NBA Wednesday, leaving basketball without its most well-known player.
Or did he?
Jordan’s announcement was unemotional. It also didn’t have an unequivocal stamp of finality.
Most of his employers and teammates were in attendance at the 40-minute press conference broadcast live nationwide from the team’s practice facility in suburban Deerfield, as was Jordan’s wife, Juanita, and NBA officials including Commissioner David Stern.
They heard Jordan, a seven-time National Basketball Assn. scoring champion, say: “I’ve always stressed to people that when I lose the sense of motivation, it’s time for me to move on. I’ve reached the pinnacle and I’ve achieved a lot in a short period. I don’t have anything else to prove.
“Everyone wants to know if my father’s death has anything to do with this. Well, I was kind of leaning in this direction before, and he knew this. So it didn’t alter my decision, but in some ways it made it simpler. What my father’s death made me realize is how short life is, and how it can be taken from you in a minute.”
Jordan’s father was the victim of an apparent random murder in July.
“It’s time for me to be a little unselfish and spend some time with my family--to get back to a normal life, or as close to it as I can,” Jordan said.
But still, Jordan would not slam the door on a future comeback.
“If I do decide to come back a year from now or whatever, that’s entirely up to me,” Jordan said.
“Five years down the line, if the urge is there, if the Bulls would have me back, if David Stern would let me back, I may just come back.
Who knows? That’s an option that will never close.”
Although Jordan is clearly serious about quitting basketball because he has nothing left to prove, one high-ranking official of the Bulls told The Times: “In my heart, all I think Michael wants is a year to himself.
“Suppose he gets restless after a year, or just gets bored. How much golf can you play? Michael needs challenges in his life. He’s not sick like Magic Johnson or disabled like Larry Bird. He’s just tired.”
When it was suggested to Chicago teammate Scottie Pippen that Jordan had left the door open, Pippen nodded and agreed.
“But he didn’t leave it wide open, did he?” Pippen said.
Clearly, Jordan’s retirement may not be an open and shut case.
Jordan said that his family would continue to reside in Chicago because it is the only home his children have known. He also said he intended to play “pickup games” once in a while and would occasionally drop by Bulls’ practice to help out as needed.
“But mostly I’m going to sit home and watch the grass grow, and I’ve got to cut it, too,” Jordan said. “And if I sit there and get a big potbelly, well, guess I’ll have to exercise.”
Jerry Reinsdorf, the Bulls’ owner, explained that Jordan had first broached the subject of retirement after the Bulls won their first NBA championship in 1991, defeating the Lakers. After periodic follow-ups, Reinsdorf realized that Jordan was serious about quitting when they spoke for 3 1/2 hours after a Michael Jordan Foundation charity dinner Sept. 18.
“I sensed that I should not make any attempt to talk him out of it, because that would have been dishonest on my part,” Reinsdorf said. “He reminded me of our conversations of years earlier and how he had warned me that he couldn’t remain enthused about playing. This was not a rash decision.
“My only regret is that I would have liked to have known that I was watching Michael Jordan’s last game when I was watching it.”
Reinsdorf said he does not expect Jordan back, but “I wouldn’t rule anything out.”
According to the NBA’s director of operations, Rod Thorn, a player may submit a letter to the league declaring himself voluntarily retired, but is not obligated to send the letter. Asked if that meant Jordan could return at any time, Thorn said: “I don’t see why not.”
It was Thorn who drafted Jordan in 1984 when he was the Bulls’ general manager.
Many did try to talk him out of retiring, Jordan said, among them his coach, Phil Jackson.
“I asked Phil: ‘OK, is there anything for me to prove as a basketball player?’ And he thought about it, and that’s all I needed. Because if there was something left, he would have answered the question very quickly,” Jordan said.
His retirement headlined an extremely busy day in Chicago sports, with the White Sox losing their second baseball playoff game in a row to the Toronto Blue Jays, a hockey season opener involving the Blackhawks and the firing of a baseball manager, Jim Lefebvre, by the Cubs. Jordan said it was not his intention to overshadow other events, but he wanted to get his retirement out of the way before the Bulls opened camp later this week.
“The hardest thing about my decision, by far, is leaving my teammates,” he said.
Although the commissioner’s office continues to examine alleged incidents of Jordan’s gambling away from basketball, Stern said he expected Jordan to continue to cooperate fully and that neither expected anything much to come of it.
Jordan said he and Magic Johnson would sit around sharing memories from now on.
“The thing is about Magic, he still wants to play competitively. I don’t. I want to play leisurely,” Jordan said.
“Charles Barkley is also a friend, and we’ve always talked about retiring at the same time. But I think he still has goals that he wants to achieve.
“Unfortunately for Charles, he couldn’t, because I was standing in his way,” Jordan said, laughing. “But now I hope he does accomplish them, as well as Patrick (Ewing), because he’s a friend, too.
“I’m still an avid Chicago Bulls fan, though. I think this team still might surprise people. Hey, I love Charles as a friend, but I love the Chicago Bulls as a family, and I live in Chicago. So you won’t catch me rooting for no Phoenix.”
Jordan said he expected no further financial remuneration from the Bulls and that he had no particular business to conduct.
“Never had a job and don’t want one now,” Jordan said.
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