Saved By The Bell: Airing My Grievances With Jordan

A lot of sportswriters have complained about Michael Jordan’s coming return. Few have bothered to do anything about it.

I will. If you happen to know MJ, I’d ask you to kindly pass this note along. It would be appreciated.

Dear Mike,

What the hell is your problem?

You’ve won six NBA championships. You’ve been an MVP, an All-Star MVP, an Olympic gold medalist, a short-lived cartoon on NBC and a star of both an animated AND an IMAX movie. The whole world considers you the greatest basketball player in history. Of course, the whole world forgets how much more dominant Wilt Chamberlain was. But you’ve fooled most of us.

You won your last ring with your final shot, a dramatic and appropriate exit. I say “appropriate” because in getting open for that shot, you pushed Utah’s Bryon Russell at the top of the key and the refs missed it. But again, you’ve fooled most of us, and you can forever sit on your little Hollywood ending.

You haven’t played an NBA game in three years, but you still sell more sneakers, Gatorade and Hanes underwear than anyone. You have a cushy job in the Washington Wizards front office that you rarely show up for, but no one minds because you’re Michael Jordan. When the Wizards won the NBA Draft Lottery last spring—which I’m sure was rigged, by the way—everyone wondered what the great Michael Jordan would do with the pick. You’re still the center of attention.

You’ve left people all over the world wondering who the next “you” would be, unable to appreciate anyone else. Shaquille O’Neal has blossomed into the most dominant inside presence we’ve seen in decades, and no one really cares. Vince Carter hurdles over seven-footers, and no one cares. Allen Iverson and Kobe Bryant and Stephon Marbury lead a new generation of superior ballers, and no one bats an eyelash because they aren’t Y-O-U. Only now are the masses beginning to realize that there is more to the NBA than Michael Jordan, and that there may have been even when you were here. But that’s happening slowly, and even in retirement you transcended your sport.

You’re a million years old. And now you’re coming back, a move that even your good friend Charles Barkley has decried.

You claim you’re doing it for the “love of the game.” I think there’s more to it than that. You don’t know how to cope with life outside of the spotlight. Becoming a general manager only got you so much attention before you learned that no one cares who manages a last-place team. So you needed something more.

And you don’t know how to resist challenges. I remember the stories about your gambling woes in the early ‘90s that support this theory. If the odds are long, you want in. It’s your nature.

Well, I’ve got a challenge for you.

I challenge you to a game of one-on-one. Halfcourt, standard rules, play to 11. You and me. The catch is that for you to win, you have to shut me out. If I score once on you, the game is over. You lose.

And if you lose, you stay retired. Forever.

You’ve got to admit this sort of challenge is right up your alley. It’s bold, it’s unpredictable, and it’s completely inane. Who knows how you’d fare in blanking a skinny six-foot-nothing nobody with no organized basketball experience? The way I see it, if you can’t hold me scoreless, you really shouldn’t suit up again, anyway.

I’ll take you on anywhere you want—the MCI Center, Lavietes Pavilion or a more hallowed court like Harlem’s Rucker Park. Anyplace, anytime.

I’d probably make a fool of myself, but I’m willing to take that chance. I’ll know that at the glorious moment when my off-balance 29-footer falls and I beat you by a final score of one to nine, I will have saved basketball from its addiction to you. I will have saved my Knicks from more misery, the Wizards from having to wait before rebuilding and the city of Chicago from unspeakable torture.

And, just as importantly, I will have saved you from yourself. Barkley will thank me. Years from now, so will you.

Consider my offer. The Real Michael Jordan doesn’t shy away from challenges, not even the dumb ones, does he?

I couldn’t be more serious. I’m in the directory.

Bring it on, Baldie.

Best,

Martin Bell