In each of the past two years, as the NBA season has winded down and 16 teams have begun their quest for the championship, I haven’t been able to help lapsing into a profound reverie on the current state of the game.
After waking from these interminable hours of musing to stare at the screen and see the Bucks play the Magic, I always arrive at the same, overused conclusion—it just isn’t what it used to be.
To what do I attribute this corny feeling of athletic nostalgia? To the absence of Michael Jordan.
People may argue that he could only be enjoyed for so long, that the reign of His Airness would eventually come to an end and his departure would be inevitable.
Although it pained me deeply to think about it, I coped with his retirement and tried to find new hope in players like Kobe Bryant, Allen Iverson, and Vince Carter.
Sadly, these players exhibit flashes of brilliance, but lack the aura of invincibility that Jordan created for himself.
When Jordan walked onto the court, players, fans, and teammates alike knew that he couldn’t be stopped, and he knew that as well.
Jordan turned basketball into an art form. Who can forget the monumental battles he engaged in with the mighty dunk artist that was Atlanta’s Dominique Wilkins?
Nobody came close to Wilkins, with his 360-degree dunks and thunderous tomahawk jams. Nobody except Jordan.
And when it seemed that Wilkins had gained the upper hand and was on his way to grounding the Jordan express, “Air” Jordan produced the most famous dunk of all time, the memorable “Fly” dunk that later became his trademark.
Dunk contests were never the same after that.
It was that ability to rise to a superhuman level-even when it seemed like there was no more hope-that made Jordan the best player to ever grace the hardwood and arguably the greatest athlete of the century.
Who can forget Jordan being carried off the floor of the Delta Center in Utah after single-handedly dismantling the Jazz even though he was ailing from the flu?
Moments like those are what the playoffs are all about and that unyielding determination is what earned Jordan six championship rings, and they would have been eight straight had he not momentarily retired to fulfill his father’s dream of playing baseball.
Jordan held basketball’s throne for an entire decade, and was the leader of a dynasty, a term that will probably be forgotten with the roller coaster that is the NBA at present time.
And now rumors have arisen that the man might return next season and play for the Washington Wizards, where he now serves as President of Basketball Operations and answers only to the team’s owner.
It appears that the return of the great Mario Lemieux—the NHL Hall of Famer who came back from a three-and-a-half year retirement to score more points per game than anyone in the league—sparked a flame inside Jordan.
Lemieux and Jordan are very good friends and frequently play golf together, and Lemieux recently predicted that Jordan would once again be the best were he to return.
Jordan recently said that if he did return, it would be purely for the challenge. Although he has denied planning a comeback, he has failed to emphatically shut the door on the possibility.
However, as much as this return would mean for anyone with any interest whatsoever in sports, it would be a mistake.
Jordan has nothing left to prove to anyone in basketball. He doesn’t need to return and play into the hands of the younger generation that will be anxious to show him up.
The Wizards are a very mediocre team and Jordan gains nothing from the incredible boost in attendance his return would inevitably bring.
Lemieux has benefited greatly, but he is the owner of the team and had to use all his resources to buy the team and keep it in Pittsburgh.
Even with Jordan, who is 38 years old, the Wizards would not become contenders, because as great as he is, he still needs a relatively decent supporting cast to shoulder some of the weight.
He had that in Chicago, but he doesn’t have it in Washington.
More importantly, Jordan retired on top.
He will always be remembered for stripping Karl Malone of the ball in the closing moments of Game Six of the 1998 NBA Finals, and then promptly schooling Byron Russell from the free throw line to hit the championship clincher.
It was the magical ending to a magical career, and it should remain that way.