Publish date:

Wake-up Call

Hey! Michael Jordan is back for a full NBA season! Pay attention! This is big!

He should have handlers. He should have trainers. He should have
an entourage. The return of Michael Jordan for a full 82-game
NBA season, plus playoffs, should have a much larger ruffle than
it has. A publicist should be handing out flashy press releases.
The pay-per-view rights should be the subject of a bidding war.
Barbara Walters should be angling for an interview. Someone like
Don King should be shouting.

I will try to do the job.

"Say goodbye to the pretenders and the contenders and the
defenders," I say with my electroshock hair standing straight up
on my head. "The king has returned to take his throne. Not since
Napoleon came back from Elba, not since Hannibal crossed those
mountains, not since Elvis recorded that special from Burbank in
the black leather outfit...."

Yes. This is the proper stuff.

Michael Jordan is back! Has everyone forgotten, so soon, how
good this man was in this game played in short pants and rocket
sneakers? He was the best player in the entire history of
basketball! A convicted felon returns to knock out some
ham-fisted bozo from central casting in 89 seconds and the world
stops spinning on its axis. The best player in the history of
basketball returns, full time, to his game, and he almost seems
forgotten. Taken for granted.

"The Chicago Bulls should have an interesting team," the average
preseason prospectus reads. "Michael Jordan is back and Scottie
Pippen is still around and Dennis Rodman is there and the
enigmatic Toni Kukoc returns and there still are great doubts
about the strength in the center position and there is a need
for a point guard with the departure of B.J. Armstrong and...."

Forget about it. Take out a pen and write this down: The Bulls
are the defending champs, shooting for their fourth straight
title. Everything that happened in the past two years gets an
asterisk. The Rockets* might have won back-to-back titles* and
Hakeem Olajuwon* and David Robinson* might have won MVP* awards
and Shaquille O'Neal* might have sold a lot of footwear and
soda, but all of that happened in a vacuum. The best player in
the history of basketball was not playing. He was not injured or
old, nor incapacitated in any way. He was simply bored--bored
because he was too good, bored because the game had become too

Michael Jordan was 30 years old, at the top of his abilities,
when he left basketball. The best there ever was, no debate. The
idea that he was standing in a minor league outfield diminished
all that happened in his true sport. He was a cartoon balloon
with a large question mark in the middle that hung over all NBA
events. No matter how well any other players did, there was the
thought in the backs of their heads that a better basketball
player was walking around in the dull traveling grays of the
Birmingham Barons.

True, he came back in a late-season rush last spring, playing
the final 17 regular-season games with the Bulls, then 10 more
in an ill-fated playoff run that ended against Orlando. But was
that an honest test? That was an appetizer. He was walking off
the street in the role of the long-ago high school hero parking
the beer truck outside the YMCA and looking for a little action
on a Thursday afternoon, no preparation involved, memory trying
to replace training. The fact that he played as well as he
did--26.9 points per game in the regular season, 31.5 in the
playoffs--was more amazing than anyone seemed to think.

This is the actual return. This year. Now. He has rebuilt
himself into basketball shape. Both his team and the power
structure of the league have been rearranged, changed, new
furniture brought into an old, familiar house. Challengers have
developed. All thoughts of boredom have disappeared. Off the
expressway, through the Sears Tower, around the entire league,
into the new arena, win a title, nothing but net. Michael Jordan
couldn't have devised a more intriguing mountain to climb if he
had tried.

"This is the end to all perambulation, somnambulation and
doo-wop ditties," I say, a public-relations fire coursing
through my body. "This is the real deal, the Ferris wheel and
the tilt-a-whirl. Not since General MacArthur stood on the
beaches of Corregidor and vowed to return, not since Androcles
came out to face the lion, not since Rocky Balboa came back to
whip the Russian and Frasier left that barstool and moved to
Seattle to win Emmys...."

The best story of all this year's stories is this man's return.
How good will he be? How much--if anything--has he lost in those
two years? No one has ever had to come back to such a high
standard. Can Michael Jordan once again be Michael Jordan? It is
his curse and his challenge that he will be compared only with

I wish, indeed, I had the pay-per-view rights. This is going to
be much better than any 89-second knockout.