|KING OF THE COURT|
January 13, 1999
|His last shot in the NBA brought his team, the Chicago Bulls, its sixth championship. After 13 years in the league, 10 scoring titles, six championships and five MVP awards, Michael Jordan has calls it quits.|
PHIL PONCE: With a steal --
ANNOUNCER: -- 17 seconds - 17 seconds from game 7 or for championship number 6 - Jordan - Chicago with the lead!
PHIL PONCE: In the last-second jump shot last June perhaps the most famous athlete in the world led his team to its sixth NBA championship in eight years. Now, Michael Jordan has ended one of the most storied careers in the history of American sports, in which he won at all levels. Originally cut from his high school basketball team, he later led it to the state championship.
In 1982, as a freshman at the University of North Carolina, he scored the winning shot against Georgetown to win the national collegiate championship. Jordan joined the Chicago Bulls of the National Basketball Association in 1984 and led the team to its first championship in 1991 -- two more followed. He retired briefly after his father died to try his hand at professional baseball but returned to lead the Bulls to three more championships. Overall, Jordan was the league's most valuable player five times and scoring leader ten times.
And he was the center of what might be called Jordan, Inc. -- commercials, movies, endorsements that brought him wealth and worldwide fame. In Chicago today, sitting next to his wife, Juanita, Jordan said it was time for him to retire.
The end of an era.
MICHAEL JORDAN: I played the best I could play it and I tried to enhance the game itself. I've tried to be the best basketball player I could be, and, once again, I've had a great time - you know -- and I can't say enough for the people who have supported me. And my life will take a change. And a lot of people say, well, Michael Jordan doesn't have any challenges away from the game of basketball -- well I dispute that. You know, being a parent is very challenging. If you have kids, you know that. And I welcome that challenge.
Mentally I'm exhausted, I don't feel I have a challenge. Physically I feel great -- the last time in '93 I had other agendas. I knew I wanted to play baseball and I felt that at my age it was a good opportunity and time to do it, you know, with the death of my father -- and I was basically trying to deal with that.
This time I am peace with a lot of those things. I know from a career standpoint, I've accomplished everything I could as an individual, and right now I don't have the mental challenges that I have had in the past to proceed as a basketball player. Sure, I'm pretty sure people say, well, there are lot of different challenges that could evolve, and, you know, for me to start something and then in the middle of the season lose interest and lose my motivation, it's unfair to the people that I'm working with and working for, and to the fans. So I alleviated that opportunity by saying - you know -- this is a perfect time for me to walk away from the game.
PHIL PONCE: Joining me now a man mentioned today by Michael Jordan as one of the great players who came before him, Jerry West, who starred for the Los Angeles Lakers from 1960 to 1974; he's a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame and has been an executive with the Lakers since 1982; and Fred Mitchell, sports columnist for the Chicago Tribune. Gentlemen, welcome.
Jerry West, you've been quoted as saying that Michael Jordan is the "Babe Ruth of Basketball." Is he? Was he the greatest ever, in your opinion?
|The greatest ever?|
JERRY WEST, Basketball Hall of Famer: Well, you know, it really troubles me because I've lost a lot of wonderful players in Los Angeles - Magic Johnson - Abdul Jabar - Wilt Chamberlain - Elgin Baylor - some of the great players who have ever played. But I would be more than lying if I didn't say he's the greatest player I've ever seen, and for a number of reasons, because I think you judge greatness in a lot of areas. And with him, basketball is a game that requires tremendous endurance, tremendous skill, and tremendous courage, and he showed that all through his career. But I really think the thing that sets him apart from all the other players was the fact that this is a guy that was the best offensive player in a league at any given time and at any given time he was the best defensive player, and obviously winning six world championships in a modern era is something that maybe we won't see for a while.
PHIL PONCE: Jerry West, you mentioned one of the components, the physical skills. Were there things that Michael Jordan could do just physically that other players couldn't do? I mean, did he have moves? Could he jump higher? Was he a better shot?
JERRY WEST: Well, I think when you combine skill and physical, there's never been anyone like him. His physical package was second to none. Perfect basketball body - more importantly, I think the perfect demeanor to play the game - probably the best competitor in the game, and when you put all those ingredients together in the kind of person he is, it was a pleasure for me to watch. I've admired him like no other athlete, and I'm going to miss watching him play myself. I think it's kind of a sad day for the NBA and certainly a sad day for the Jordan fans, but probably for him, the weight of the world is off his shoulders today. He not only was expected to carry the Bulls, but if you read every publication around, he was the one who was carrying the league. I can't imagine handling that burden as well as he has.
PHIL PONCE: Fred Mitchell, for people who may not follow professional basketball, how would you explain to them what set Jordan apart?
FRED MITCHELL, Chicago Tribune: I think, Phil, the fact that he was able to dominate his profession for such a long period of time in front of a stage where the entire world was watching all the time, and he's probably, you know, the most highly chronicled and documented superstar of any era, and for him to perform under those conditions at the top level really sets him apart.
PHIL PONCE: Fred Mitchell, we just heard Jerry West say that Michael Jordan had been carrying the weight of the NBA on his shoulders. Did you notice in him today sort of a sense of relief for something, that it was over?
|Jordan: A sense of relief?|
FRED MITCHELL: I did sense that he seemed very much at peace with his decision. I think in 1993, there was obviously some doubt, and he came back to the game because there was still that challenge left for him, but he seemed very resigned to the fact that this is what he wanted to do. He had nothing else to prove, nothing else to accomplish, and now he's ready to make that transition. He was probably more ready to make that transition than most of the fans here in Chicago, who seem to be very somber this day.
PHIL PONCE: Jerry West, how about that, was it time for Michael Jordan to retire?
JERRY WEST: Well, I think if you could take a storybook career and chronicle it, Michael Jordan's book - book would be - the book would be written about Michael Jordan - but for me, making the last job in Utah, most players don't have the opportunity to walk away from it the way he did? This was the perfect time for him, and just looking at him today and watching him on TV, he really looked like that he was at peace with himself, and I think when you've achieved what you've achieved at his level and for as long as he has and with the enormous publicity, countless fans all over the world, and the way he's handled this, it's a remarkable tribute to a remarkable man, and a remarkable athlete.
PHIL PONCE: Jerry West, he talked about his loss of motivation. For people who admire athletes, one might think, boy, as long as I can do it, I'd be in there, but does the loss of motivation ring through to you as a reason for stepping away?
JERRY WEST: Well, that's why I stepped away from the career. I really felt I could play another year, but there's something inside of every athlete when you do something for so long - this is not - he hasn't been with the Bulls for 13 years. He's been doing this since he was a little kid - but when you're little, you're always playing mind games with yourself, particularly if you love a particular sport. And Michael Jordan has been competing against himself now - not the league and other people - because there was no one for him to compete against. And almost everything that he would have to face would be, well, that's not the way Michael Jordan used to do it, or why didn't the Bulls win, Michael Jordan was not good enough to carry these people. I can't think of a greater story, myself. This is a perfect ending to a perfect basketball player, and a great person.
PHIL PONCE: Fred Mitchell, are people in Chicago taking his explanation at face value?
FRED MITCHELL: I think so this time. I think he was very genuine in his explanation. As Jerry said, it couldn't have been scripted any better. He ended on a perfect note. He's such a competitor, I think, for him to possibly come back, he would have had to have Phil Jackson as his coach; he would have had to have guarantees of Scotty Pippin and Dennis Rodman and the rest of the veteran free agents there, and everything just had to be perfect for him to compete once again, and there were no guarantees there, and I think this is the way he wanted to go out - on his own terms.
PHIL PONCE: So are you saying that had those other things been lined up, he might not have retired?
FRED MITCHELL: We asked him that question today, Phil, and of course, he said the politically correct thing and said that, no, his decision had already been made. But I can't help but think that if Phil Jackson had made his intentions to stay with the team, at least another year, that he would have given it serious consideration to stay.
PHIL PONCE: So, Jerry West, what does Michael Jordan's retirement mean to the league?
|The impact on the NBA.|
JERRY WEST: Well, it's certainly a blow and a blow at a time when maybe we need all the positives that we can get. This lockout issue is going to be very interesting once the season starts, and you know, I heard something today regarding Michael Jordan, that when his games were on TV, they far out-shadowed any other games that were shown, and there were some other wonderful teams there. But I think it really speaks to his greatness and the tremendous charisma that this man had, that as many people would turn on their TV sets on Sunday to watch him perform, but for the league, it's something - the league will go on. But we need these younger players, who are enormously talented, to become a spokesman for the league, to conduct themselves the way Michael Jordan has done, and if all those factors are in place, we know that this league will continue to grow and prosper. To say it wouldn't be impacted by the loss of Michael Jordan would not be the truth.
PHIL PONCE: Mr. West, you talk about the need to have a spokesman for the NBA, but Michael Jordan went beyond that; he was a world figure, so to speak. What creates - what causes an athlete to sort of transcend a sport and sort of have the kind of appeal and almost define an age in the way that Babe Ruth might have and the way that Mohammed Ali did?
JERRY WEST: It's hard to define, but some people - you put them in front of a camera, you put them with singing or any entertainer - the ones who are nationally recognized, they have some common appeal that goes beyond trying to describe. You know, when you watched Michael Jordan, it was like Superman in a pair of basketball shorts. He did things that - you know - I'd say to myself, I don't think bodies should be able to do those kinds of things. And then just to watch his competitive nature, the tougher the challenge for him, the better he was. And he simply - as I mentioned before - I've never seen a player like him. I doubt if we'll ever see one again.
PHIL PONCE: Fred Mitchell, how about that, how do you explain his appeal beyond basketball and his appeal to all races and people in other countries?
FRED MITCHELL: I think it was his ability to not be condescending to fans and media. He was able to do superhuman things on the basketball court, and yet, he would come back into the locker room and spend as much time as necessary with the media explaining to the best of his ability how and why he did certain things. And I think that was how fans were able to at least vicariously experience what this man was able to do with his superhuman talents
. You know, I think back to Jerry West's era and Oscar Robinson, the Big O, during that era, they were able to dominate in this league and do things that most people were unable to do, and that helped them relate to those athletes at that time. So Michael Jordan's appeal just really goes beyond the basketball court. He was able to embrace so many people with his community activities. I know a lot of organizations had specific political agendas that they wished that Michael would have gotten more involved in. I think his ability to sort of sidestep some of those issues added to his universal appeal and will continue to do so.
PHIL PONCE: Well, gentlemen, that's all the time we have. I thank you, Fred, Mr. West, thank you.