From the Sidelines

Published 12:00 am Monday, January 18, 1999

MICHAEL KIRAL / L’Observateur / January 18, 1999

One generation had Babe Ruth. Another had Muhammad Ali. But thegeneration that grew up in the 1980s and 1990s can say it had Michael Jordan.

Few athletes of this or any time have left as an indelible image on their sports as Jordan. Whether it be his trademark tongue-out dunks or theimage of his sailing trough the air, legs spread apart, ball high above his head, Jordan WAS basketball to millions of fans around the world.

Six world championships. Five Most Valuable Player awards. Third all timein points scored with 29,277. Ten scoring titles, the most in NBA history,including seven straight. A 63-point effort against Boston in the playoffsin the 1986, the most ever in a postseason games.

But the numbers can never tell the whole story about Jordan. Jordan is oneof those rare athletes who made those around him better. Consider that inhis career, not one of his teams failed to make the postseason.

As a college freshman, he helped lead North Carolina to a national championship, hitting the winning jump shot with 15 seconds left against Georgetown in the championship game in New Orleans.

Jordan was a member of the gold medal-winning USA team in the 1984 Summer Olympics and eight years later, was a member of the Dream Team that brought home another gold.

In the NBA, he was the main attraction for a mediocre Chicago Bulls team, winning Rookie of the Year honors while leading the team to the playoffs.

Once he began being surrounded by more talented teammates, Jordan took the Bulls to the next level. In the last six full seasons Jordan played, theBulls won six world championships.

Jordan had an impact not only on his own team but also on the NBA, the sport and indeed the entire sports world. Larry Bird and Magic Johnson mayhave lifted the league up but Jordan sent it soaring, both literally and figuratively upon his arrival. Now everybody wanted to be like Mike,soaring above the rim. Jordan also raised the amount of money athletescould make, both on and off the playing field.

Whether the NBA wants to admit it or not, it will definitely miss Jordan.

It can say it overcame the retirement of such players as Bird, Johnson, Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, but few of those players had the charisma Jordan had. Nor was the league coming off a bitter lockoutwhen they left the game. And when those stars retired, there alwaysseemed to be someone to immediately take their place. Look around theNBA. Is there a superstar, not just on the court but off, that the league cancount on day in and day out? That could single-handily bring the fans back? Jordan has retired once before, in 1993 after leading the Bulls to three straight world titles and after the murder of his father. He would return in 1995 to lead the Bulls to anotherthree championships. The last came in 1998 when his 17-foot jumper inthe final seconds of game six won the title against Utah.

One last indelible image for an athlete that has left so many of them.

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