Jordan's return a blessing for us, a curse for him - Cool, Calm and Collected

By Jeremy M. Liff | October 4, 2001

The great Jordan is back! While Michael Jordan is not the first athlete to unretire, he is the first to actually announce that he would be back during his retirement press conference. After the Bulls won their sixth NBA championship to conclude the 1997-98 season, Mike sat in front of the microphone and proclaimed that this was it, again. Then a reporter had the unique of idea of asking his Airness whether he was absolutely positive.

"I guess you could say I'm 99.9 percent sure," replied Jordan.

When asked what happened to the extra tenth of a percent, Jordan responded, "99.9 percent, you can take that as you like."

Now, when those of us non-deities give 99.9 percent odds, it means that we are certain. In fact, we leave off the last tenth to almost accentuate our assuredness. But language is a little different for people like Jordan. In his case, 99.9 percent means, "See you guys next year."

To Mike's credit, he took a three year hiatus. Although, it is entirely possible that he was simply physically unable to compete during the last year, even if he wanted to. After all, it is difficult to leave the house with Charles Barkley wedged in the front door.

Maybe some of you are noticing a bit of sarcasm in this week's thoughts. If you have read my first two columns of this year, or viewed my elegant, yet stunning photo, you might be somewhat surprised by the sardonic tone.

Indeed, my tongue has been planted firmly in my cheek while typing the introductory paragraphs. But there is no question that Michael Jordan's second return to the NBA is an important issue. It once again demonstrates MJ's sky-scraping competitiveness and the impact that he has on his country and the world.

Let me first state that I am an ardent Knicks fan. So when I say that Michael Jordan's decision to return is going to be beneficial, you know that I have come up with some pretty good reasons.

When the superstar guard returned to the NBA for the first time in 1996, ABC ran a story on Jordan's impact on the economy. I didn't think I would learn anything new from the report. I knew all about the shoes, the cereals, the batteries, the TV contracts, etc. What I did not know was that Michael Jordan, with all his endorsements and business connections, actually brought ten billion dollars into the economy, per year. That's 10,000,000,000!

This man, by himself, has a significant impact on the economy of the wealthiest nation on earth. Certainly, his merchandise is marketed in all corners of the globe. He is a human economic boost.

Guess what, we could use a boost right now. Every day, we hear political leaders plead with the public to go on with their normal lives. Normality, of course, includes spending money on restaurants, Broadway shows and airplane tickets. I have no doubt that Jordan will break through the public's reticence. Washington Wizards jerseys will be flying off the rack at ungodly prices. The new Air Jordan's will sell like hot cakes.

Michael Jordan's return is good news for the NBA but even better news for America.

Enough about us. What about him? There is a completely different side to this story and it centers around the psyche of number 23. I realize that it is generally not fair to psychoanalyze people in the spotlight.

This type of practice contributed to the downfall of a great man named Richard M. Nixon. But let's try it anyway.

When people talk about great athletic winners, they often say, "It is scary how competitive he is." In the case of Jordan, it is literally scary.

What possesses a man to make a second comeback at the age of 38, having nothing left to prove after winning six championships and earning the title of "greatest player ever." I suppose it is the same thing that allowed him to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars in wagering on the golf course. Michael Jordan is addicted to winning. He needs to win. He needs to prove that he can win. This is why Jordan has been so good on the court. But it also accounts for the problems that he has had, and will continue to have, off the hardwood.

By now most sports fans have seen the ESPN series documenting the 50 greatest athletes of the 20th century. To the surprise of nobody, Jordan was picked as the greatest of them all, so his story was run last. At the very end of his show, Michael recalls a story about a one-on-one game between himself and his son. Jordan had told his other son to watch the game because he was going to teach him about losing. In the middle of the "contest," Jordan was stunned as his son threw up a garbage shot that somehow made its way through the hoop. So enraged was the great one, he started playing really seriously and proceeded to predictably blow his son off the court.

Jordan was being completely serious. This was not a joke or a self-deprecating anecdote. In fact, he was actually trying to demonstrate how he instills values into his children. Instead, he unwittingly let all of us in to his very twisted thought processes.

I often wonder why people have such a hard time believing that pro athletes, especially football players could be capable of murder. Many of the qualities that it takes to be a successful competitor in the world of contact sports also make the participants more capable of acting violently than the rest of us. Doesn't a linebacker have to attack the quarterback with a ferocity that is not found within most men?

Of course, Michael Jordan has never been engaged in violent activities. But there is no doubt that the supreme competitiveness that he used to make himself the best will continue to exist even after basketball is no longer a viable outlet in which to unleash the fury. There will come a time when "superman" will not be able to come back to the game. But there will never come a time when he does not need to win. His need for victory requires that others lose.

Who will the loser be? In the past, it was the Knicks. But in the future it will probably be someone close to Jordan. In the case of the one-on-one game, it was his son. In the case of his return to the league, it was his wife and family. Eventually, however, the loser will be Michael himself because you can't always be on top. You can't always win the ring.

Those who need to win end up living a life of great frustration. The truly successful man finds happiness in his journey, not his destination.

When Michael Jordan takes the court on Oct. 30 at Madison Square Garden, we will once again get to see the greatest player of all time. We should feel happy for ourselves because we get to see him. We should feel glad for our economy because of the activity thathis comeback will produce. But maybe we should feel a little sad for the man who wears 23. As each jumper goes in, he will raise the bar to new personal heights that he can never attain.

If you have read my first two columns of this year, or viewed my elegant, yet stunning photo, you might be somewhat surprised by the sardonic tone.

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