An Honest
Day’s Word

By Joe Edwards

Wednesday, January 13, 1999

MJ was great,
but the game
is even greater

IT'S hard to believe all the babble about whether the National Basketball Association will be able to get along without Michael Jordan.

"The NBA, the fans, the players, the coaches, American society and history are losing the greatest influence that sports has ever had," Miami Heat coach Pat Riley said yesterday.


The people who invented the television and, even more important, the remote control, had more influence on American sports than did Michael Jordan.

Riley needs to get a grip. The league will do quite nicely without Jordan.

Yes, he's the greatest basketball player to ever put on a pair of overpriced sneakers.

Yes, he has the charisma to win over people from all walks of life, from all ethnic and economic backgrounds.

Yes, he was the ultimate money ballplayer.

Yes, he made tons of money for the already wealthy white guys who run the league as well as those who pay thousands to sit in the luxury suites and those who gamble on whether he'll win the game.

Yes, yes, yes. He'll be missed.

For a while.

All the great ones are, but all sports lose their all-time greats and never miss a beat.

Baseball has gotten along without Babe Ruth and Ted Williams and Hank Aaron.

Football has flourished without Bronco Nagurski and Johnny Unitas and Walter Payton.

The NBA has somehow survived without Bob Pettit and Oscar Robertson and Magic and Larry.

And it will get along without His Airness.

The games, you see, are larger than the players themselves. Jordan's retirement will give someone else a turn in the spotlight.

Every team in the league other than the Chicago Bulls has been waiting for this day for a long time. They will shed no tears for the Bulls, that is certain.

Charles Barkley isn't going to care that he now has a shot to actually win a title. The same no doubt goes for Shaq and Penny Hardaway and David Robinson. And how about Karl Malone and John Stockton? You think they're not sick of Michael and Scottie and Phil and all the Zen gobbledygook that's come out this decade-long Bulls orgasm?

PEOPLE ask, but what about all the money and good will he generated? How will the NBA ever recoup or regroup?

This is far from being the worst thing that could happen to the league at this point, given the lockout and the fallout that may or may not result from it.

It is the perfect opportunity for the NBA to grow in a new direction with a new set of starring characters.

On any given night in the NBA, Michael Jordan was only playing in one game and yet arenas around the country were packed. Something must have been drawing all those people.

For the past decade and a half everyone has wanted to be like Mike, for good reason. But like everything else, times change and you have to move on.

Thirty years ago, everyone wanted to shoot the sweet jumper like Jerry West or grab a rebound one-handed, take it the length of the floor and dish off a behind-the-head, no-look pass for a layup like Earl Monroe.

When I was a kid, I wanted to shoot the sky hook like Kareem and practiced it for hours in the driveway.

And five years from now, kids will want to post up like Tim Duncan or swoop in for a dunk like Lamar Odom.

As evidence, I offer a slice of life from the Edwards house yesterday morning. On my way out the door before work I said to my wife, "Well, time to go retire Michael Jordan."

My oldest son, Zack, who is not quite 4 years old but knows Mark McGwire when he sees him on TV, looked at me and asked:

"Who's Michael Jordan?"

Joe Edwards is sports editor of the Star-Bulletin.

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