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Jordan on Jordan

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By Jan Hubbard

That shocking day in October 1993 seems very far away now. Michael Jordan retired, but he made up for it by coming back. As someone said when he first left, "Michael Jordan can't quit yet. I wasn't finished watching him."

Jordan laughed when told of that line. He's been back for more than two years now, and he's added another ring, increasing his collection to four. On this off day, he was sitting behind his desk in his office in downtown Chicago, where he graciously agreed to spend some time pontificating on the state of Michael Jordan. And he even offered a few glimpses into the future.

Q: Have the last two years been more fun, less fun, or about the same as it was before you retired?

Jordan: It's been a different fun. It's a mature fun. You find a way to make it fun because you know you're on the downside of your career. Before it was fun because it was a lively situation. We were young, crazy, adventurous.

But now it's more of a smart fun where you go out and do your job, get your rest because you know you're on the downside of your career. You have competition every day because you set such high standards for yourself that you have to go out every day and live up to that.

Q: Do you think, looking back, that you had to retire just to get away from being Michael Jordan for awhile because of the demands by fans, teammates, the public and also the pressure of just being Michael Jordan?

Jordan: I wouldn't say just being Michael Jordan because I knew when I went back to playing baseball that it was still going to be the whole thing associated with the persona of Michael Jordan. I just needed to change. I was getting tired of the same old activity and routine and I didn't feel all the same appreciation that I had felt before and it was tiresome.
     A lot of things correlated with that -- my father dying, the opportunity to play baseball, my desire to make a change. I look back on it and it was perfect timing to break away from it and see what I was missing, to see what it meant to me, to see the enjoyment that I got from the game.

Q: Is life now as crazy as ever with the adulation from fans and the way that you attract crowds wherever you go?

Jordan: When I was playing before I retired, I never really understood the appreciation and the respect that people gave me. People had treated me like a god or something, and that was very embarrassing. I only played the game of basketball.

I never really knew that the talent that I possessed meant so much to people until I walked away. Phil [Jackson] would tell me that. He said, "You don't know the talent that God has given you and what you are going to deprive people of." And I said that may be true, but I can't think about that right now. He understood it from that point.

I received a lot of letters from fans saying that they were very disappointed that I chose to do that. Some of them were harsh and said I was being selfish. But there were a lot of supportive letters too.

Some fans protested Michael's 1993 retirement, saying they "weren't done watching him yet".

Q: What challenges do you think you have left?

Jordan: My challenge when I came back was to face the young talent, dissect their games, and show them maybe that they needed to learn more about the game than just the money aspect. This is a business and you get paid well, but you have to earn respect. You have to do your job every day. It doesn't matter whether you are getting paid $2 million or $30 million. It shouldn't change the way you play the game of basketball. And they can see that. They can see that you are making a lot of money, but they also can see that you have a love of the game.

Q: If you win the championship, what's your next challenge?

Jordan: The next challenge is to constantly find some kind of motivation to keep growing. If we win a championship, we will have to see if we can keep the team together.

Jerry Reinsdorf had to pay me a lot of money for one year, and I don't know what is going to happen next year. A lot depends on Phil, and on Dennis [Rodman]. I'd like to keep us together.

Phil is most important to me, but Dennis is also important. There are some things Dennis does that I don't particularly like, but I still respect him as a player because he makes us a better team. I don't want to be a baby sitter for anybody, but if he can come in and do his job, his talent makes us a better team.

Q: What does Michael Jordan want to be doing at 40?

Jordan: Playing golf every day. Overseeing all of my business affairs. And more or less living my athletic dreams through my kids if they choose to play athletics.

I'd like to be settled into somewhat of a normal life. Somewhat. I know it's never going to be completely normal. But I'd like to move around and do other things because I won't be the focus as much as I am now. I'm pretty sure that it is still going to be there because of all the obligations I have with endorsements.

But I guess the main thing is I want to be playing golf every day.

Q: What about Michael Jordan at 50?

Jordan: Gray hair. Or gray beard, I guess. Not really doing anything. I don't know what I want to do. I want to wake up every day and do whatever comes in my mind, and not feel pressure or obligations to do anything else in my life.

Q: But your competitive instincts will force you do compete in something.

Jordan: I won't have any competitive instincts in any sports, other than golf. I can't see being competitive in sports any more.

Q: What about the Senior Golf Tour?

Jordan: No. Takes a lot of work to do that. I've experienced how much work it takes to succeed in my own profession. I'm not willing to do that in other fields.

Q: What about acting?

AUDIO: Even though he's one of the 50 Greatest, Michael says he's still a student of the game.
Jordan: Takes too much time. I have a great deal of respect for it. When we were making Space Jam, we had actors came out and played in [pickup] games. I was talking to Dean Cain [who plays Superman on TV], and I couldn't believe what he had to do. He would come and play basketball with us from 7 to 9 at night, and then go back and work all night on the TV show. And then he had to work with weights all day to keep his body fit so he could get in those tights.

I couldn't do that. And most of acting is hurry up and wait. You wait while they set up the lighting, and then you get excited and do something, and then you wait again. It's like starting a game and stopping, starting and stopping, starting and stopping. It takes so much time, I could never do that.

Q: You have acted and you have played basketball against actors. Which is worse? A player trying to act, or an actor trying to play?

Jordan: Depends on the actor or the player. Dean Cain had talent, and he knew when to get out of the way. Some guys don't and they are surprised at how good NBA players are. If they don't get out of the way, you can get hurt. But he knew when to move.

Dean Cain was good, but when compared to people in your field, other players, there is no way he could play in the NBA. It is obvious that he could be very good in a YMCA, just like I'm pretty sure I'm good in a drama class. But that's it.

Q: Will you go to Europe to play after you permanently retire from the NBA?

Jordan: I always said I wanted to do that, go over and play for a European team, just to see what it's like, just to see what they understand about the game of basketball. But I don't want to do that any more. I see a lot of Europeans come over here and play, so I understand their game, so I don't feel like I'm missing anything.

Q: There has been a theory expressed that the young, high-flying Michael Jordan had such a great influence on kids that shooting skills and fundamentals aren't as strong any more. Kids tried to imitate your jumping and dunking, rather than your shooting and defense, and as a result, the shooting skills of young players isn't as great as it used to be. What are your feelings on that?

Jordan: I don't think it was Michael Jordan. I think it was the exposure of Michael Jordan; the marketing of Michael Jordan. Everything was marketed towards the things that people wanted to see, which was scoring and dunking. That Michael Jordan still played defense and an all-around game, but it was never really publicized.

I think if you want to blame me for some of that, you have to blame a lot of people. We have the dunking contest at the All-Star Game and things like that. That was the type of thing that was promoted then, unlike now, when the league is promoting a lot of other aspects of the game. I think we all have to take a little credit for the way we promoted the game. I think it was the same way with Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, but it increased when I came in because of my ability to jump. I have to admit that it had an effect on the game, but we all have to take a little credit.

Q: It has to be amazing for you to watch some of the young players trying to imitate some of your dunks.

Jordan: The thing about those dunks is that they were never really planned. It was more or less created instinctively once I got up in the air. But those were the things that people focused on.

It's like my logo. I wasn't even dunking on that one. People think that I was. I just stood on the floor, jumped up and spread my legs and they took the picture. I wasn't even running. Everyone thought I did that by running and taking off. Actually, it was a ballet move where I jumped up and spread my legs. And I was holding the ball in my left hand.

Q: How did you feel about being named one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History?

Jordan: It's a tribute, but it is so debatable who should be in the top 50. I don't know that I could pick a top 50 myself. I think it was great that it brought a lot of attention to older players. That part was neat.

Q: Who were your basketball heroes growing up?

Jordan: David Thompson and Walter Davis. They were both from North Carolina. But we didn't have a lot of access to games and we couldn't identify with the players. Everything was local. We only got ABC and NBC on our TV sets; we couldn't even get CBS.

Q: You have said that if you could have a fantasy matchup with a former player, it would be Jerry West.

Jordan: I would love to play against Jerry West. Actually, there are two. Jerry West and Jerry Sloan because [Bulls GM] Jerry Krause swears Sloan could shut me down. Jerry West because I just want to see how great he was. They called him Mr. Clutch; it would have been a pleasure just to see how you could play against him.

Q: Your Michael Jordan cologne has been one of the best sellers since it came on the market last year. Why?

Jordan: I think it's more or less a collector's item. I think Bijan did a great job researching it. They wanted a product that could sell itself rather than just having something with Michael Jordan's name on it. They devoted a lot of dollars to investigating opportunities and desires to see whether men would buy Michael Jordan cologne before they actually put the product on the market. And I also think it's a collector's item. It's amazing. People go in and buy 12 bottles at a time and that's the limit.

Q: Do you think the ultimate test of your marketability would be a line of Michael Jordan hair products?

Jordan: I did that a long time ago with Johnson Products here in Chicago. But when I lost my hair, I had to get away from it. You won't see any Michael Jordan hair products anymore.

JAN HUBBARD has closely followed Jordan's career since he burst on the NBA scene in 1984.