Michael Jordan: ‘The best there ever was.’

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DETROIT– Most people go into the Hall of Fame first. Then they get the statue. Not Michael Jordan.

DETROIT– Most people go into the Hall of Fame first.

Then they get the statue.

Not Michael Jordan.

Even as he stood in the ballroom of a downtown Detroit hotel Monday for the announcement of his election to the Hall class of 2009, the same snowstorm that swirled outside blanketed a statue erected almost 15 years ago in front of the United Center in Chicago – The House That Jordan Built – a few hundred miles to the south.

The figure cast in bronze atop a granite base soars toward the sky, a basketball at the end of its outstretched arm. The pose captures almost perfectly the illusion of Jordan: that he could fly. But down near the bottom, where the statue is affixed to the earth, is an inscription that captures the reality: “The best there ever was. The best there ever will be.”

What made Jordan that, and more, was not the string of NBA scoring titles, regular-season and finals MVP awards, not even all the championships he won. A few members of the exclusive club he will formally join upon induction into the Hall come September boast accomplishments just as outsized.

No, the real wonder of Jordan is that he always kept score. Not just in his head, not just on a basketball court and not just some nights, but every minute of every day.

In his front yard, against an older brother on a makeshift court of caked dirt … at North Carolina, where he banked in a last-second jump shot to win an NCAA championship … in Barcelona, Spain, where he led the Dream Team to a second Olympic gold medal … on the team bus playing, gambling in casinos, even wagering with teammates whose suitcase would come down the baggage carousel at the airport first … in corporate boardrooms, where he helped sell more of everything – hot dogs and hamburgers, Wheaties, sunglasses, calling cards, underwear and the Internet … in Salt Lake City, where one last heart-stopping jumper swished through the net, securing his sixth title and sucking every last bit of air out of the state of Utah … even when he came out of retirement the second time in Washington, age having diminished everything but his desire.

He is keeping score still.

“This is not fun for me,” Jordan said during a brief news conference. “I don’t like being up here for the Hall of Fame because at that time, your basketball career is completely over. That’s the way I look at it. I was hoping this day was coming in 20 more years, or that I’d actually go in when I’m dead and done."

“Because the way you always look at it,” – or at the least way Jordan did – “you can always go and put on shorts and play. Now you get into the Hall of Fame, what else is there to do?

“Look,” Jordan continued. “It’s a great accomplishment, it’s great the respect everyone is paying. But for me, I always want to have you thinking that I can always go back and play the game of basketball. As long as you have that thought, you never know what can happen. You never know what my abilities can do."

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Copyright 2009 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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