- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 23, 2003

There is no concern this time with the departure of Michael Jordan.
There is no crying, no whining, no woe-is-us sentiment around the NBA.
Jordan is gone, seemingly for good this time, and the NBA is on rock-solid ground.
This is not 1998, the year of Jordan's last farewell.
This is the year of Tim Duncan and Tony Parker, of Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant, of Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash, of the deep, talented team in Sacramento.
Jordan said his final goodbye in Philadelphia last Wednesday night, and by the weekend, the passing was overtaken by a series of compelling individual performances in the playoffs.
Allen Iverson scored 55 points, Nowitzki 46, Tracy McGrady 43 and Paul Pierce 40, each in a winning cause.
The question of the next generation haunted the NBA after Jordan led the Bulls to the last of their six championships in the '90s.
"I leave the NBA in good hands," Jordan said at the NBA All-Star Game in Atlanta.
The evidence is persuasive as the NBA makes its initial forays in the postseason.
The NBA is where the NFL, Major League Baseball and the NHL would like to be in the global marketplace. The popular emergence of Yao Ming, in a way, completes the vision of commissioner David Stern.
No market is beyond the reach of the NBA: East or West, First World or Third World, democratic or totalitarian. All the peoples of the globe are encouraged to stand under the NBA umbrella, preferably in a Jordan jersey.
The basketball gods are with the NBA. The leading figures of the NBA embody strong athletic values.
Duncan, the NBA's leading MVP candidate this season, is a professional who works hard, plays hard, accepts the bad with the good and checks his ego at the arena door.
The high school players today could find no better athlete to emulate than Duncan. You don't need to beat on your chest or lose your mind. You don't need to let everyone know how special you are.
As Charles Barkley pointed out at the NBA Finals in 1993, the sun, win or lose, is going to come up the next morning.
Most of the best ones in the NBA appear to have an almost intuitive grasp of that reality. They are able to play through the bad calls, the momentum shifts in a game, the occasional cheap shot that goes unnoticed and the trash talk purveyors.
Duncan sees every defense imaginable. He sees the rough stuff. He sees two defenders, then three. He is impervious to it all, unflappable and unbowed. He just plays the game. With chaos all about him, he is a picture of calm, cool in the best sense. He led a mostly unexceptional group of Spurs to a 60-22 record in the unyielding Western Conference this season.
Duncan's is one method of operation. Bryant's another.
Bryant is a cutthroat competitor. Just when an opponent thinks it is having a moment of clarity against the Lakers, Bryant rips the team's heart out. The bigger the game and moment, the bigger Bryant aspires to be.
Some guys disappear in the fourth quarter. Bryant embraces that point in a game, with all eyes on him and the outcome in doubt.
Bryant probably has broken down every tape there is on Jordan. He almost talks and walks like Jordan. It is as if Bryant, in seeking to be the best there ever was, has culled everything there possibly is on Jordan while adding his personal touch to it.
Has the NBA ever had more quality citizens in a season vying to be the MVP, in Duncan, Bryant, McGrady, Nowitzki and Kevin Garnett?
Has a Goliath in the form of O'Neal ever been more lovable?
O'Neal is the self-described "knucklehead from New Jersey" who has a lot of clown in him. Sometimes his jokes don't go over well, as was the case in his impression of Yao, but his heart is in the right place. Sometimes after a ferocious dunk, O'Neal makes like a low-flying airplane as he heads to the other end of the court. It works. It is hilarious. O'Neal is having fun, and he invites you to have fun with him.
Listen to him. He is the Big Aristotle. He is the acronym MDE (Most Dominant Ever). He is Kazaam, of course. He also is Officer Shaq, one of his stated career options following basketball.
Can he see your driver's license and vehicle registration form?
Good old Officer Shaq.
This is good stuff for the NBA.

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