Michael Jordan, the single greatest basketball player to ever live, is coming out of retirement to play for the team he partially owns, the Washington Wizards.
This situation has the potential to destroy the legend that Jordan has created over his career.
Jordan has not played in four years, and in athletic terms, he is not a young man. Jordan will turn 39 in February, near the midpoint of the season. His body was showing signs of age when he last suited up for the Chicago Bulls, with the disappearance of his trademark dunks from the free throw line.
He retired once before, after the 1993 season, to pursue his other love of baseball. Jordan felt he had done everything in the NBA, and wanted to try his hand at another sport. After struggling in the minor leagues, he returned to basketball, partially to prove that he could still do it and do it well.
Back then, he COULD still do it, and he was still the best player in the league. Now, though, I don’t think he can.
The game now is much faster than Jordan’s 38-year-old body will allow him to play. Young stars like Allen Iverson and Kobe Bryant use the speed and agility once possessed by Jordan. These qualities are now simply memories of his youth.
When Jordan left four years ago, his Bulls had won the NBA Championship, and Jordan himself had hit the final shot of the final game of the series. This man, who currently ranks first in NBA history for points per game and holds numerous league records, was set to ride off into the sunset complete with a storybook ending to his career.
Returning to the game can do nothing but tarnish his image.
In the unlikely event that Jordan can still be the best player in the world after all these years, people will simply say “Oh, well. Big deal. After all, he IS Michael Jordan.” However, the danger here is if he is not the best player. If Jordan is anything less then he was when he left the game, he will be damaging his image in the memory of basketball fans across the globe.
Given that he can’t possibly improve his already brilliant status in league history, it makes absolutely no sense for Jordan to return.
The only situation that is fair to compare Jordan’s to is that of Pittsburgh Penguins center Mario Lemieux, who returned to the game of hockey last year to be just as excellent a player as he was before his retirement a few years ago. Lemieux, however, was five years younger than Jordan when he returned, and Lemieux returned because injury and illness shortened his career. He didn’t leave voluntarily, as Jordan did. Lemieux had something to prove. Jordan does not.
Even if Michael Jordan returns and is very good, he has already set an unfair standard to which he must live up to: his own.