- The Washington Times - Friday, January 11, 2002

In October, after the incorrigible Michael Jordan announced he would lace up his Nikes and return to the court as a full-time player, I wrote a Dear Michael column. In it, I applauded His Airness but questioned Michael Jordan's morals and constant absence from home and hearth and you folks took me to task, essentially saying that he is an untouchable, super-duper hero.

With few exceptions, the dozens of e-mails from men focused on his athleticism and stats, and his incredible marketability. Nothing surprising there. Women, though, were miffed at me. One, Ruby, told me to "lay off Michael. Another, Mariska, titled her e-mail "Who are you?" and said, "You have no idea what kind of time this man spends in his neighborhood, with his kids or with his wife." Apparently she hadn't read or heard word of what Juanita Jordan had to say about that 10 years ago. "I have no problem," she told Ebony magazine, "saying no. If someone didn't step up and say no, there would be no time for family… . I know it makes me look like a bitch … I'm protecting what we have. If that is what I have to be, then I will be a bitch."

Right on. With her husband's disappearing acts becoming even more frequent and previously fed up when he ignored her most important no as in "No, I don't want you to be a full-time player" Juanita filed for divorce last Friday, citing irreconcilable differences. She is seeking reasonable reparations and custody of their two sons and daughter 9-year-old Jasmine, who is a spitting image of her daddy. Also, for the record, Juanita is 42 and next month, if he survives, His Airness turns 39. Already with child when they wed in Vegas on Sept. 2, 1989, the couple appear to have been estranged since last fall, when you-know-who had an itch that neither his wife nor children apparently could scratch.

To be sure, marriage isn't always easy. His Airness knew that it is nothing like finding your spot and making a jumper that's nothing but net. Indeed, just listen to His Airness and perhaps you get a glimpse of where he's coming from. In his 1998 autobiography, "For the Love of the Game," he said, "There was a reason for me getting married and having children. That experience of being a husband and a father provided a balance and a focus away from basketball." Hmm. "Provided," as in past tense.

Interestingly, a year later, in 1999, he forsook Juanita and the children again. When His Airness begrudgingly relinquished his reign and No. 23 Chicago Bulls jersey, he perched himself next to Juanita and said he was 99.9 percent certain he was making the right decision. "It's difficult because I'm giving up something I truly, truly love." There's that word "love" again. But, as with the title of his book, not in reference to family.

Now, fast-forward to 2001: He owns a stake in the Washington Wizards, is worth $398 million, and has tantalized fans and Wall Street not to mention NBA moguls with chatter about re-lacing his Nikes. Again, he forsakes home and hearth for basketball, sets up new digs in Washington and begins staying in their apartment just north of Chicago's famous Loop when he's in town. After all, he knows he can easily mesmerize men, so his they're-Hanes-let's-just-leave-it-at-that strategy targets women.

Obviously, his mysterious ways no longer work with Juanita. When things became shakier in December, he took his ailing knees home and tried to smooth things over with Juanita. "He told her he would do that all season as a way to be near her," according to a source quoted in the Jan. 9 Chicago Sun-Times where His Airness used to meet her during their premarital days of wooing and whoopee. But, like any other athlete, he has good days and bad. And, like the Juanita he knew before they were hitched, she allowed us to see a side of Michael Jordan that neither briefs nor boxers can hide. In 1989, she did that by filing a paternity suit; this time it is a divorce suit. His Airness responded by telling sports writers during practice on Tuesday that "When you have personal issues, sometimes work is a great avenue to deal with it and move on. Things will work out in the long run." So much for quality family time.

Now, don't for a minute consider that a profound or prophetic statement. All things work out in the long run. And, whatever you do, don't believe that Michael Jordan has, at last, made you a confidante or repository for his deepest thoughts and feelings. Michael Jeff Jordan, minus his remarkable stats, breathtaking on-court skills and marketing appeal, is a mere man who dons his briefs (or is it boxers?) like other men.

In closing, I leave you with comments from a female reader who understands what it is to be, like Juanita, a single mother. Her e-mail, in response to my October "Dear Michael" column, was indeed profound. "If anything good came out of the tragic events of September 11," Miss L.A.S. writes, "one of them must be that we all realize now how shallow and inconsequential the lives of the superstars we have lauded as heroes truly are. Michael Jordan will wake up one day and no longer be able to play basketball but his children, probably strangers to him, will be grown."

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