Thanks, Michael. Thanks for reinventing the game of basketball. You won everything there was to win—a national championship in college, two Olympic gold medals, the NBA title three times in a row. Over the past nine seasons with the Chicago Bulls, you averaged more than 32 points a game. But it was not how many points you scored but how you scored them that left us breathless. It was the way you moved on the court, with a silken ease and a steely intensity, as you glided past your defender and then burst up, up, up, a bird of prey riding a column of air to the hoop. Said admiring rival Larry Bird in 1986: “He is God disguised as Michael Jordan.”
You were not, of course. Or, if you were anything divine, you were that ancient Greek creation, the demigod—half Olympian and half mortal and therefore vulnerable to human foibles and human grief. We can understand how the relentless weight of fame, especially the scrutiny of your off-court activities that revealed you to be an enthusiastic if not gifted gambler, and your terrible sorrow this summer at the death of your father put basketball in a new perspective. Still, your announcement last week of your retirement from the game you transformed left us stunned.
You, however, seemed relaxed, comfortable with your decision. You were getting out, you said, because it wasn’t fun anymore. “I reached my pinnacle,” you said. “I don’t have anything else to prove. I won’t miss the cheers. I don’t need them to live…. Basketball is great to play. But there’s a lot to life besides basketball. Everyone has to make the decision at some point to move forward, away from games.” And then you stepped off into the void with the same grace with which you launched your fallaway jumper toward its whispering passage through the net.