Jan. 13, 1999: The Day Jordan Left Basketball

By Beacon Staff

Exactly one year ago today, Michael Jordan announced his second retirement. This was the big one. It carried the weight of the NBA’s future. Of course, he came back again to play for the Washington Wizards, but we’ve all tried to forget that. And in hindsight, his first retirement was almost fun – a little baseball break before coming back to the NBA to win three more championships. But the Jan. 13, 1999 announcement is the one I still feel today, lingering and stinging if I choose to remember.

I really only had one goal when I was a kid: To be like Mike. This seemed straightforward enough to me. Sure, basketball was fun, but a greater force compelled me, as an 11-year-old, to shovel the driveway every weekend in the dead of winter just to have enough room to shoot hoops. My parents couldn’t have paid me to shovel anywhere else, but that 10-by-10-foot area had to be clear. Being like Mike was a full-time job.

In the end, much to my surprise, I never really was like Mike at all. Physical features aside, my game more closely resembled that of Muggsy Bogues than Air Jordan. While Jordan played above the rim, I played far below it, close to the floor. Nevertheless, some colleges still have a need for little guys who look like the waterboy but can occasionally hit a pull-up jumper. So I listened to my scholarship offers and, recalling that I wasn’t like Mike, made the difficult decision to not play college basketball.

It’s really all Jordan’s fault. College would have been an easy decision for me if he hadn’t planted the idea in my heads years ago that basketball would be my calling. For much of my youth, it did appear to be my calling. People talked about my college basketball future starting in sixth grade and by my senior year in high school their voices had grown loud. But it’s not their fault. It’s Mike’s. He’s the one who made me believe.

Michael Jordan’s ability to inspire should never be forgotten. It is the good in sports, when so often in the daily headlines we are reminded of the bad in sports. Jordan transcended the game. On the court, he was the best that ever played. Off the court, he created a culture, with millions of followers across the globe.

We all thought we could be like Mike. And even though we found out that we aren’t, I don’t think any of us hold a grudge. It was nice to believe.