MJ still ‘The Most Competitive Man in the World’

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He imagined himself entering the Hall of Fame leaning on a cane. Or else posthumously. “That’s the way I look at it,” Michael Jordan said. “I was hoping this day was coming in 20 more years, or that I’d actually go in when I&

He imagined himself entering the Hall of Fame leaning on a cane.

Or else posthumously.

“That’s the way I look at it,” Michael Jordan said. “I was hoping this day was coming in 20 more years, or that I’d actually go in when I’m dead and done.”

His eyes were red-rimmed. He wasn’t laughing. That was five months ago, at the announcement of Jordan’s election to the Class of 2009, inside a downtown Detroit hotel on a grim, snowy Monday afternoon that fit his mood. Even so, come Friday, he will stroll into the Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremony on 46-year-old legs that he believes have at least one more transcendent performance left in them, even if everyone else has doubts. He is – still – The Most Competitive Man in the World.

It’s become an article of faith in sports that sooner or later, the “next one” will come along; if not in this generation, then the next, or certainly the one after that. But there will never be another Michael Jordan.

Bill Russell, whose likeness is already inside, won more NBA championships – 11 to Jordan’s six. Two other men, Kareem-Abdul Jabbar (in) and Karl Malone (a cinch for the 2010 class), scored more points over the course of a pro career. Wilt Chamberlain scored more on a single night. Oscar Robertson put up 153 more triple-doubles.

Larry Bird was a better pure shooter. Magic Johnson was a better passer. Kobe Bryant might retire as the most complete offensive player ever. LeBron James has time on his side, 22nd-Century skills already, and a RoboCop physique to boot. His accomplishments might one day dwarf all of theirs.

But ask yourself: If your team is down by a point with 0:01 left and the fate of the universe is hanging in the balance, whose number are you gonna call?

The original 23. The same guy who bailed out the planet the last time.

Jordan was the first superstar of the 24/7 era. Then its first supersalesman. Try and name another athlete who could play himself in a corny movie like “Space Jam” – battling animated giant aliens who looked suspiciously like Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, et. al. – and still have it gross $230 million worldwide.

Tiger Woods?

Substitute a golf course for a basketball court and a 10-foot birdie putt at the 18th for the last-second shot in the scenario above and the answer is: maybe. At the moment, no one else is even in the argument. Open it up to history, and you can still count the names on one hand.

Four decades ago, writer Wilfrid Sheed said you could walk into a hut in the remotest corner of Africa and find a picture of Muhammad Ali hanging on the wall. Next to it might have been another of Pele. But TV had little immediacy back then and only a fraction of the audience to come. Four decades before that, Babe Ruth became the larger-than-life embodiment of a burgeoning Yankee empire. But that was when newspapers still roamed every corner of the earth.

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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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