- The Washington Times - Monday, May 14, 2001

Here's the best reason Michael Jordan won't play basketball again if he has a brain in his head.

June 14, 1998, Delta Center, Salt Lake City: Jordan's Chicago Bulls lead the NBA Finals three games to two but trail in Game 6 86-85 with less than 10 seconds remaining. Everybody watching knows Jordan will take the last shot, especially the Utah Jazz.

Now Jordan has the ball at the top of the key with Bryon Russell guarding him. Michael fakes a drive, Russell takes it and now Jordan's 20-foot jumper is in the air with five seconds left.

Swish.

Of course.

Was there ever any doubt?

The Bulls win their sixth NBA championship in eight seasons. Jordan already has won his 10th scoring title in 13 seasons, the last several after his retirement, abortive fling at playing minor league baseball and hoops comeback. The shot that beat the Jazz is a fantastic capper on a fantastic career.

Has any superstar ever departed in so dramatic a fashion? Maybe Ted Williams, who hit his 521st home run in his final at-bat for the Boston Red Sox in 1960, but that was in a meaningless game. Jordan's final fillip meant a championship and seemed totally in character for the best basketball player in the history of creation.

What could top that?

Nothing, which is why Jordan shouldn't and won't play again. You don't say hello again a few years after executing an achingly perfect, and perfectly proper, goodbye. Or so every fan should hope.

Do you want to see Jordan, now 38 and substantially heavier, on a basketball court again? I don't. Let him expend his time and energy on transforming Washington's NBA pretenders into a championship contender. That would be an executive feat of Wizardry almost comparable to those he used to perform routinely in short pants.

Jordan's game-winner was not his only contribution on that late spring night in Utah three long years ago. He scored 45 points on a night when the Bulls' No. 2 offensive threat, Scottie Pippen, was hobbled by a back injury and played strong defense. Still, the Jazz led by three in the final minute as Karl Malone, John Stockton and Co. sought to force the tired, aging Bulls to a seventh game in the enemy's building.

But now Jordan was driving to the basket and laying the ball in, cutting Utah's lead to one point. Malone brought the ball upcourt for the Jazz, but Jordan who else? stole it from the Mailman to set up the memorable finish.

In NBC's TV booth, Bob Costas spoke the words that were on everybody's mind: "Who knows what will unfold in the next few months, but that may have been the last shot Michael Jordan will ever take in the NBA."

Not until the following January did Jordan announce his second retirement from basketball and we can only hope his last.

Nobody really begrudged Jordan his first retirement in October 1993 at the age of 30. Tired of the constant pressures and expectations and depressed over the murder of his father, he quit to play baseball something he said he had always wanted to do. But during his 1994 season with the Class AA Birmingham Barons, it became obvious that he was no better than an average baseball player (.259 batting average). When the players' strike canceled the end of the '94 season and lingered into the early months of 1995, he ended his odyssey.

Late in the 1994-95 NBA season, after months of speculation, Jordan sent a two-word fax to the media: "I'm back." And so he was. Shaking off roundball rust and briefly wearing No. 45 instead of his familiar No. 23 the better to spur renewed uniform sales, skeptics said he led the Bulls to a 13-4 record the rest of the way, scoring 55 points in one game and averaging 26.9 points. In the playoffs, though, the Bulls lost to Orlando in the second round.

In Jordan's first full season back, all he did was average 30.4 and lead the Bulls to a 72-10 record, the best in NBA history. The following two seasons his numbers added up to averages of 29.6 and 28.7. His basketball career was neatly symmetrical. The Bulls won titles his last three seasons BR (before retirement) and the first three full seasons after.

Red Auerbach, the Washington genius who coached the Boston Celtics to eight NBA championships in the 1950s and '60s, always claimed that his defensive genius, Bill Russell, was the best NBA player ever. But on a day several years ago, Auerbach was puffing on a cigar in his office in Northwest D.C. and admitting, "I guess you'd have to say now that Russ was only No. 2."

Such is the glory that was Michael Jordan, including the sensational finish. An encore? Forget it.


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