As much as we’d like to deny it, the one man we thought might just be invincible has proven himself unmistakably human. No, I’m not talking about Ken Griffey Jr. again (although he’s on the DL for three to six weeks).
Michael Jordan has announced his season has ended just two weeks short of the first playoff season he will miss as part of the NBA since sometime in the late ’80s.
This is absolutely heart-wrenching news. The 2001-2002 season has been a bit of a roller coaster for Jordan and all of his well-wishers, and many of us can’t decide whether we’re truly happy he came back. Sure, he proved he can still score more than 20 points a game and almost led a practically doomed Wizards team to the playoffs. But was that all really worth seeing everybody’s hero leave his NBA career broken and as a shadow of what he once was?
There were some great moments this year for Mike. He had flashes of excellence, hitting game-winning buzzer beaters in three games, pouring in 51 points against the Hornets in one of the most nostalgically beautiful games of the season. When things went well, it was glorious, and the NBA was fantastic once again.
But what about the five times Jordan was held to single digits? What about the times we had to watch the greatest basketball player ever limp off the court, wincing in pain that was not only physical but also a deadly wound to his pride, because he was slowly realizing that you can’t be great forever?
That is too much for the basketball world to take, and if he even entertains the thought of coming back next season, Mike will continue to bring agony. Not because we don’t want to see him, but because we only want the memories of him soaring through the air and dunking over Charles Oakley’s head, again and again. We only want to see him fall to the floor in a pool of tears embracing his second championship trophy.
Think of other athletes who have just refused to believe their time is up.
Think of Jackie Joyner-Kersee being carted off the infield in Atlanta in tears after she hurt herself during her final decathlon.
Think of Dan Marino averaging four interceptions a game in ’98 and watching the absolute disgust on his face as he realized he would never get that Super Bowl ring.
Think of Mark McGwire, how much he whined last season and how the Cardinals didn’t even start him in the playoffs; he had to settle for standing ovations once a game instead of the requisite four.
Just look at how pitiful Karl Malone is now.
Think about how sad it’s going to be when Mike Modano is skating around the rink on one foot, but not giving up the dream of outplaying Joe Sakic (take that, Martinez).
We will all miss Mike, but as long as he plays and continues to hurt himself, the torture for him and his fans gets worse. n