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- Dr. Loomis: "Remember who you're dealing with here. Don't underestimate It."
Nurse: "Don't you think we could refer to 'It' as 'Him'?"
Dr. Loomis (thinking): "If you say so."
(From the second scene in the movie "Halloween," as Dr. Loomis and a nurse prepare to visit Michael Myers.)
MJ lugging himself around in Boston, looking like he's wearing cement sneakers, trying hopelessly to stay with Paul Pierce. MJ tossing up a 6-for-28 in Philly, as Iverson explodes for 52 (and a ton of smack along the way). MJ coming off a switch in Orlando and suddenly finding himself on Tracy McGrady, as T-Mac waves his teammates away so he has room to abuse Jordan off the dribble. MJ ducking his head in Los Angeles, as Darius Miles soars over him for a thunderous dunk. MJ dribbling grimly up the court in Atlanta -- his team down by 20 in the second period, 15 games still remaining in the season -- looking like a guy who wants to dig a hole and hide.Depressing? Absolutely. Emotionally scarring? Puh-leeeeze. And that's what I can't understand -- this condescending backlash from the national media about Jordan's imminent comeback. Writers across the country have treated this saga like MJ just announced plans to release his first snuff film. It's enough to make you want to throw up in your mouth: Please, Michael ... don't come back ... don't ruin your great legacy ... last time you left on your terms as the best in the game ... don't sully that memory ... you have nothing else to prove ... your career started with a game-winning shot and it ended with a game-winning shot, and just thinking about that beautiful symmetry makes me want to pull my clothes off and roll around in a vat of body lotion.
|Here's what I see happening when Michael Jordan returns to the NBA:
Peak No. 1: Spring, 1989
His fifth season, normally the season when a star player makes The Leap and starts scratching the limits of his talents. Jordan carried a mediocre Bulls team during the '88-'89 season and carried a mediocre Bulls team to the Eastern Conference Finals (during a time when the league was extremely competitive, no less).
His ninth season, also the year in which the Bulls won their third consecutive title and staved off a talented Suns team in the Finals. Jordan wasn't quite as explosive as he was during the early-MJ years -- maybe 85-90 percent -- but he made up for that barely perceptable erosion in other ways. First of all, thanks to a rigorous workout routine, he sculpted his body and whipped himself into superior shape. Not only could he absorb constant punishment around the basket, he also wasn't tiring at the end of games anymore. As a bonus, the added muscle made him nearly unstoppable on the low block, providing him with a whole new arsenal of weapons. And he had become a savvier all-around basketball player, with a much better sense of "how" (to use his teammates) and "when" (was the right time to take over a game).
|MEMORIES OF MIKE|
|Everybody has a favorite Michael Jordan memory, and the Sports Guy is certainly no exception. Click here to read Bill Simmons' recollection of the time Antoine Walker made the mistake of messing with MJ.|
After shaking off the rust from his sabbatical, the new MJ emerged as the greatest all-around NBA player of all-time. He didn't have that same pre-baseball explosiveness, compensating for it by playing more physically on both ends. Instead of being Barry Sanders, he was Emmitt Smith, picking his spots, plugging away and punishing defenders for four quarters. This version of MJ was extremely resourceful; he had developed an uncanny, cerebral sense of the game at this point, much like Bird or Magic. And you could feel the assertiveness and competitiveness literally oozing from him (remember, the Bulls won 87 games that season, including the playoffs). More importantly, Jordan became a much better all-around teammate -- his failures in baseball taught him to embrace his teammates, to accept their faults, to adapt his own considerable skills and complement theirs. And that's the truest test of greatness in team sports -- can you inspire your teammates, improve their games and raise their collective level of play? Until '96, you couldn't say that about Jordan. Peak No. 4: Spring, 1998
My favorite version of MJ. His hops were pretty much gone, yet he maintained his quickness and never lost a step. Somehow he kept chugging along, making up for that loss of explosiveness with an renewed intensity and resiliency. Rarely would Jordan exhibit emotion on the court anymore; even game-winning jumpers were celebrated with a simple fist-pump and a relieved smile. Like Ali in the mid-'70s, he relied on guile, experience, memory and heart, and he knew just about every trick in the book (like when he shoved Bryon Russell to free himself for the final shot of the '98 Finals).
This version of MJ demonstrated a nearly surreal ability to take command of games in optimum moments; he had evolved from the greatest basketball player of all-time to the greatest winner of all-time. Jordan's collective performance against Indiana and Utah in the playoffs -- when he fought the effects of a 100-game season, paced his 36-year-old body, shouldered some of Scottie Pippen's burden (when Pippen was derailed by a bad back) and still managed to carry the Bulls through the final two rounds -- was simply the most extraordinary basketball achievement of my lifetime. Just thinking about it gives me the chills.So he peaked four times. Four. Look it up. And you're telling me that Michael Jordan can't peak one last time? That he can't become an elite NBA player again? That his age (39) and the lengthy layoff (three years) makes up too much of a collective handicap, even for him? You're willing to tell me that it can't happen? That it's beyond the realm of possibility? I didn't think so.
|***** ***** *****|
But then I realized something: Hey, maybe Bruce did know.Maybe he knew that the band wasn't as good, he knew his voice was shot, he knew they could never come close to approaching their primes... and he accepted it. Maybe he just liked playing music with those people. Maybe he wanted to hear the roar of the crowd again. Maybe he wanted to make a little money along the way. And maybe, just maybe, there would be a few moments along the way when everything came together, when their chemistry would start cooking again and the crowd would lift them to a higher place, if only for a few moments. So what's wrong with that? As fans, we cling to the past -- almost to a fault -- and when our heroes hang on past their primes, it provokes a curious level of condescension and disappointment. And yet few of us have ever achieved true greatness, so we couldn't possibly understand what it feels like to give up on your talents, to accept the effects of time, to walk away from something you love. Either it's a mind game (you convince yourself that you still have "it," even if you don't) or a good-natured acceptance (you admit to yourself that you don't have "it" anymore, but you can still have fun), but it's a battle that every talented person faces at some point. That's life, isn't it? To begrudge someone for holding on, for making one last run, for seeing if they have anything left in the tank ... it just doesn't make sense to me. And that's why I was disappointed in myself that I reacted so badly to Springsteen and his gang during that concert. The Boss is older than 50 and still putting on a pretty good show. You had to hand it to him.
|***** ***** *****|
|THE BIG THREE|
|Three questions will ultimately determine whether this comeback succeeds:
1. Are the Wizards good enough?
On paper, it's a pretty motley crew; no other Wizard other than Jordan could potentially make next year's All-Star Team. Even with the '93 version of MJ, the Wizards would barely make the playoffs. So what happens if the losses start mounting? How will Jordan handle it? 2. Will his skills still be there?
With the advances in conditioning over the past 10 years, it's reasonable that Jordan could return at an All-Star level. If Stockton, Clemens and Bonds can keep chugging along, why rule Jordan out? I can see MJ averaging between 22 and 25 points a game next season, depending on one question ... 3. Can he stay healthy?
And here's the big X-factor. Can Jordan's body hold up? Remember, he already suffered broken ribs during a pickup game back in July. Can MJ remain in the same super-human, indestructable shape that carried him through those final three Chicago seasons? Can his aging body handle the rigors of an NBA schedule? Will his body keep betraying him even when his skills haven't slipped? Stay tuned ...
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Simmons: Handicapping the AFC
Simmons: Handicapping the NFC
Simmons: Curses! Please stop with talk of Red Sox curse
Simmons: How to win at fantasy football ... and annoy people
Simmons: Dear Sports Guy ...
Simmons: Why I love sports
Simmons: Bobbled "Catch"
Simmons: Beware the heartbreakers
Simmons: Putting my $29.95 to good use
Simmons: 'Inside the Manager's Studio'
Simmons: Basebrawl fever: Catch it!
Simmons: The climb of my life
Simmons: An Idiot's Guide to the Gold Club Trial
Simmons: Bane of the ballpark
Simmons: 'Real World' meets the NFL
Simmons: Do I have anything left?
Simmons: The Sports Guy's Book of Lists
Simmons: Boogie Hoops
Simmons: 10 lessons learned from the 2001 Red Sox
Simmons: The Ramblings
Boston Sports Guy: Diary of a Mad Draftnik
Boston Sports Guy: Haunted by Len Bias
Sports Guy: Is Roger really the Antichrist?
Sports Guy: Ewing Theory 101
Boston Sports Guy: Hitting the NBA below the belt
Boston Sports Guy: The Nomar Redemption