The basketball hero returns humbler, wiser

Share
Related Topics
Their names are a handful. Bradman the cricketer, Pele the master footballer, Jack Nicklaus the nearest thing yet to a perfect golfer, perhaps Muhammad Ali in his prime - all are performers who for a spell have not so much dominated, as transcended their chosen sport. In this list of legend must now be inscribed the name of Michael Jordan.

For the casual watcher, like myself, basketball even at its highest levels can be strangely unsatisfying. The athleticism is unarguable, but scoring is too easy, as many as 100 times in a 60-minute game. The players seem to grow taller every season, apparently bred for no other purpose than to lob a round orange ball through a netted hoop fixed 10 feet above the ground. Reduced to their barest functions, most sports are faintly absurd - how is it that half the male population of the US is obsessed by whacking a small white ball with a piece of metal across otherwise attractive tracts of countryside, before attempting to roll it into a tiny hole? But basketball is more absurd than most. That is, until you witness the Chicago Bulls and Michael Jordan.

This year's Bulls may be the greatest NBA team ever, basketball's equivalent of the 1970 World Cup-winning Brazilians, or the pulverizing West Indian cricket teams of recent memory. In the regular season they won a phenomenal 72 of 82 games. Screaming Lord Sutch has as good a chance of becoming prime minister as has another team of denying the Bulls the 1996 NBA championship. And in a team of gods, Michael Jordan is Zeus.

This has been his annus mirabilis; a record eighth year as NBA top scorer, a fourth Most Valuable Player Award, a season imprinted with the image of Jordan - leaping, twisting in midair, swooping, soaring, sometimes all of the above at once. Above all, he can raise his game to whatever level the moment requires. Take the second playoff game this week against the Orlando Magic, the Bulls' closest challengers in terms of ability. The first had been a 121-83 Bulls blow-out, basketball's version of a 6-1 victory at football. The second was another story. Orlando led by 18 points at one stage in the second half - at which point Jordan had seen enough. From then on he scored at will, and the Bulls emerged winners by 93 to 88.

Now he is demanding a $36m (pounds 24m) two-year contract to stay in Chicago, and such is the infatuation of the Windy City with Jordan that he almost certainly will get it. Indeed Jordan's colossal commercial pulling power means that even at $18m a year, he is a steal.

Yet money is hardly the issue for Jordan. How many sportsmen voluntarily climb down from Olympus to the mudswamp? Michael Jordan did, in 1994, forswearing the Bulls for an apprentice's job in minor league baseball, on a farm team for the Chicago White Sox. I went to see him once, playing outfield for the Birmingham Barons one steamy mid-summer night in Alabama. The place was packed, of course, with every eye on the loping figure wearing No 42. But the spectacle was dreadful to behold. In the field he dropped a couple of easy fly balls and muffed a simple relay throw. At bat, he flailed in vain. That Jordan has come back to basketball a more human and appealing figure should not surprise. A sport in which even the best hitters fail seven times out of 10 has a way of teaching humility.

In retrospect the decision, astounding at the time, was utterly explicable. Filial guilt undoubtedly played a part. James Jordan, whose ambition always was that his athletic genius of a son should play major league baseball, had been murdered the previous July. Burdened with personal tragedy, hounded by pseudo-scandals, winner of three NBA championships already and three times voted its most valuable player, Michael Jordan was also bored of basketball. Thus the flight of baseball fancy.

He has returned mentally recharged, and a better player than ever. A fraction slower, some say, but wiser and tactically more astute and, when necessary - just like Bradman, Pele, or Nicklaus - still capable of lifting his game to a plateau of sustained excellence no other can reach.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: 3rd Line Virtualisation, Windows & Server Engineer

£40000 - £47000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A 3rd Line Virtualisation / Sto...

Recruitment Genius: Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Service Engineer

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A successful national service f...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Sales - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Fixed Term Contract

£17500 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We currently require an experie...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Not only is Liz Kendall a shy Tory, but her words are also likely to appeal to racists

Charlie Brinkhurst Cuff
Andy Coulson  

Andy Coulson: With former News of the World editor cleared of perjury charges, what will he do next?

James Cusick James Cusick
Syria civil war: Meet the military commander who says his soldiers will not rest until every inch of their war torn country is free of Islamist 'terrorists'

‘We won’t stop until Syria is back to normal’

Near the front lines with Islamist-controlled towns where Assad’s troops were besieged just last month, Robert Fisk meets a commander confidently preparing his soldiers for battle
Fifa corruption: Strip Qatar of the World Cup? Not likely

Strip Qatar of the World Cup? Not likely

But if a real smoking gun is found, that might change things, says Tom Peck
Twenty two years later Jurassic Park series faces questions over accuracy of the fictional dinosaurs in it

Tyrannosaurus wrecked?

Twenty two years on, Jurassic Park faces questions over accuracy
The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation may undermine Hillary's chances

The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation...

... and how it may undermine Hillary's chances in 2016
Genes greatly influence when and how many babies a woman will have, study finds

Mother’s genes play key role in decision to start a family

Study's findings suggest that human fertility is still evolving
12 best olive oils

Extra-virgin, cold-press, early-harvest, ultra-premium: 12 best olive oils

Choosing an olive oil is a surprising minefield. Save yourself the hassle with our handy guide
Rafa Benitez Real Madrid unveiling: New manager full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

Benitez full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

There were tears in the former Liverpool manager’s eyes as he was unveiled as Real Madrid coach. But the Spaniard knows he must make tough decisions if he is to succeed
England can win the Ashes – and Elvis Presley will present the urn

England can win the Ashes – and Elvis will present the urn

In their last five Test, they have lost two and drawn two and defeated an India side last summer who thought that turning up was competing, says Stephen Brenkley
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)