Exactly how long do you think Michael Jordan's retirement will last? One week? One month? One year?
Did someone say forever? Right, and the money under your kid's pillow came from the tooth fairy.
Jordan, despite his claims to the contrary at a press conference Wednesday, will be back - in his No. 23 Bulls uniform. And it won't be for an old-timers' game, either.
The guess here is one year. One year to recharge his batteries, to realize how much he misses being the best basketball player in the best basketball league in the world. One year to play with his kids, spend endless hours with those friends and family he says he's been selfishly ignoring. One year to regain his hunger for the game while watching the Bulls founder.
One year to realize that, despite the horrible sudden death that befell his father, James, this summer, he, Michael Jeffrey Jordan, probably has 40 years ahead of him in which he'll be too old and tired to play NBA basketball. Better, he'll realize, to unretire next year at 31 and rejoin the game and league he loves, lest he awaken a middle-aged man with major regrets about cutting off his career at the height of his powers.
Jordan says he already was leaning heavily toward retiring before his father's death. He said the main impetus behind his decision is the same now as it was at the end of that last championship season: The realization that he has nothing left to prove.
After winning seven consecutive scoring titles and leading the Bulls to three consecutive NBA championships -- something Larry Bird and Magic Johnson never did for their teams -- Jordan said he has nothing left to accomplish other than to win what he called "extra championships."
We believe him. We believe that everything Jordan said Wednesday was a true and accurate reflection of how he feels -- now. We believe he will change his mind and return to the NBA, a right he was quick to reserve whenever someone asked about the possibility of his future "unretirement."
"That's an option I would never close on," Jordan said. "I'm not closing the door. I don't believe in 'never."'
After leaving the University of North Carolina before his senior season, Jordan, 30, played nine seasons in the NBA. John Paxson, one of several Bulls teammates who turned out for Jordan's farewell press conference, told ESPN, "I never looked at Michael as a guy who was going to play 12 or 15 years, anyway."
Obviously, the world's most famous athlete doesn't need the money. Jordan said Wednesday that his endorsement contracts are 10-year deals that remain in effect. Even as he walks away from the final three years of a Bulls contract that pays him $4 million a year, Jordan's income from endorsements is conservatively estimated at $30 million a year. CNBC reported that Jordan made $50 million last year.
"I never had a job," Jordan said, "and I don't want one now."
Bulls Owner Jerry Reinsdorf said that Jordan is retiring because he wants to live "the American dream. The American dream is when you reach a point in your life where you don't have to do anything you don't want to do."
If he were to keep playing basketball, Jordan would have to do a lot of things he doesn't want to do. He would have to sit still for a league investigation into his gambling habits, the one big blot on his otherwise pristine image. The league, after trying to wish away Jordan's link with several shady characters, was in the midst of an investigation, but had backed off temporarily, out of respect, after his father was found slain in August.
Seemingly trivial, but obviously not trivial to Jordan, since he mentioned it nearly a dozen times during the press conference, is the media spotlight in which he lives. By retiring, Jordan said, he hopes to be able to lead "a more normal" life.
The details of the American Dream differ for everyone, but the essence is the same: The right to do whatever you want. And more important, the right not to do anything you don't want.
For a George Steinbrenner, a multimillionaire who nobody knew until he bought the Yankees, a big part of the American dream was becoming not just rich, but famous. Steinbrenner revels in being recognized; he craves attention. But for Jordan, 10 times more famous than Steinbrenner, having his every off-court move scrutinized has become a humongous headache. Once your privacy is lost, are you really living the American dream?
But does Jordan really believe he's not going to yearn to return once the season gets rolling, and the playoffs near and he sees how desperately his team needs him? He loves the competition, loves the game. And when you love the game as much as most athletes do, you'll risk anything, even your life, as Reggie Lewis did, to keep playing.
Maybe Michael Jordan can get all his future kicks from playing with his kids, or gambling huge sums at a casino without having to worry about explaining himself to the media and the NBA. But those who know him best say Jordan is the most competitive son of a gun they've ever met.
Jordan will return. Not because he has anything left to prove on a basketball court - he doesn't. He'll return because he'll realize, after some prolonged R&R;, that goofing off 12 months a year is nice, but there is something missing.
"At some point," Jordan said, "everyone has to make the decision to move away from games."