The Insider: Don’t Do It, MJ

I’m about to make an unpopular stand on a very hot sports topic: I do not want Michael Jordan to make a comeback. But before I get vilified the way my officemate was when he e-mailed the whole damn company to declare his admiration for Erap, allow me to explain.

Why, you may ask, do I not want His Airness to lace up his sneakers once more and give a boost to the NBA’s sagging ratings, as he will most certainly do? Well, I ask you, why should he in the first place? I do not see any reason for MJ to come back at age 38 and try to play at the high level he did when he left in 1998.

NBA history is full of once-great players who could not accept the fact that their time was up, stubbornly refusing to make gracious exits. It was painful for everyone – their fans, their teammates, and their opponents – to see these former superstars reduced to mere mortals, in the process tainting their legends a bit. Basketball greats like Julius Erving, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Larry Bird all played a year too many, especially Kareem. When these great players reach their twilight years, there will be whispers around the league that they have lost a step, or that they are no longer the mighty, feared players they once were.

In the case of MJ, the whispers will be even louder, and the scrutiny more intense. And I’m afraid the whispers will be correct. Even though Jordan is the perhaps the most competitive player ever in any sport, the kind of warrior who will cut your heart out and show it to you, not even he can win a one-on-one with Father Time. He may still be an adequate player with a skill level high enough to be of some help to his team, but it just wouldn’t feel right. Jordan being the second or third option on offense or being totally outplayed by younger players is something not worth watching.

Besides, it’s not as if Jordan has some unfulfilled mission in life that he needs to address. I can understand why Charles Barkley, for instance, is having second thoughts about staying retired. Unlike Jordan, he hasn’t won a championship yet. On the other hand, MJ could not have asked for a more fitting ending to his magnificent career. He last shot ever wins a championship with time winding down. His sixth championship, to be exact. He wins the Finals MVP for a record sixth time. He is named regular-season MVP for the fifth time. Every time the Chicago Bulls make the Finals, they win. Why louse it all up? Nothing he will do can top his last performance against the Utah Jazz. Let’s not destroy that fairytale ending.

And another thing: Look at the team he will join. It will most likely be the Washington Wizards, of which he is part owner, a team so downtrodden that they managed to lose more than 60 games this season despite having one of the league’s highest payrolls. Even if big-name free agents like Chris Webber and Vince Carter decide to head to Washington for a chance to play alongside the greatest, I don’t see a championship banner hanging from the rafters of the Wizards’ homecourt at the end of next season. And stop dreaming if you’re hoping Jordan will resurface in Chicago – that team’s even worse than the Wizards. Moreover, relations between Jordan and Bulls general manager Jerry Krause have been strained beyond repair.

Some may argue that a Jordan comeback is just what the NBA needs to boost sagging TV ratings and draw the fans back, but if that’s gonna be the solution all the time, then Jordan might as well play until he’s 80 years old. There will be no one like him, and the league should stop hyping its upcoming stars as “The Next Jordan”. The NBA is obviously suffering from the post-Jordan party hangover, and it’s time to move on. Although I must admit that there is still no player in the NBA horizon who can carry the league the way Jordan did. Kobe Bryant would be a prime candidate, being immensely talented and playing in a city like Los Angeles, but the guy’s ego is even bigger than Los Angeles. Vince Carter is another, but so long as he stays in a small market like Toronto and remains surrounded by mediocre teammates, he won’t get the recognition he deserves.

To have Jordan come back for the sake of the rest of the league but at the risk of tarnishing his legendary career is really not fair. Let’s just preserve the lasting memory of His Airness: high-arching shot, perfect follow-through, ball swishes through the net, Bulls win. The way it always should be.