MJ is 50, let’s move on

I’m going to admit somethinghere.

I don’t care that Michael Jordan turned 50 on Sunday. I tried to care, because of ESPN’s wall-to-wall

coverage both on its television platforms and its website. “Sports Illustrated” devoted its cover and two long stories last week to Jordan, even though he hasn’t talked to the magazine since 1994.

Jordan is the greatest basketball player who ever lived, and I have enjoyed watching numerous highlights of his basketball career and the six NBA championships he won with the Chicago Bulls. When Jordan played, I watched. Simple as that.

He hasn’t played in a while now. He’s the owner of the Charlotte Bobcats, one of the most unsuccessful franchises in NBA history. The juxtaposition from best-player-ever to worst-owner-ever (he’s at least in the discussion, right?) is interesting, I suppose.

I made it through part of the Sports Illustrated coverage and maybe a quarter of Wright Thompson’s Jordan opus on ESPN.com before I gave up and said to myself: “This isn’t doing it for me.”

Sacrilege? I’m sure the case could be made.

Jordan is, after all, the world’s all-time greatest athlete, which is two or three rungs up from world’s all-time greatest basketball player. Those of us who saw him play still have a highlight reel or two of action streaming through our brains. Those who didn’t might have been compelled to wash themselves in all of the Jordan coverage over the past week.

I just couldn’t get through it.

For as great as Jordan was as a basketball player, he’s never been a particularly interesting person. I don’t recall Jordan ever taking any political stands or saying anything that made me go, “Whoa, did he just say that?”

Jordan was a concoction of vivid colors when he was playing basketball, but plain vanilla when he wasn’t. He was never crazy about letting the public or the media get close to him and I think most of us were OK with that as long as we could enjoy his basketball talents. Who cares what Mike thinks? I just want him to dunk.

In his Sports Illustrated story, Phil Taylor wrote: “(Jordan’s) refusal to lay himself open has also helped him maintain a bit of mystery, and with it, a certain cachet. In a culture that cycles through celebrity athletes in a heartbeat – think Dennis Rodman and Terrell Owens – Jordan abides, still with a modicum of cool as he pitches products as decidedly unhip as Hanes underwear. It’s because even after all these years, we feel that we don’t know everything about him, that we’re not through with him yet. Some athletes chase our attention, Jordan let’s us chase him.”

Was anybody really longing for Jordan news? If it hadn’t been for his approaching 50th birthday, would there have been any?

Just a few days ago, I wrote a column about former Wichita State basketball great Dave Stallworth. I had no peg to that story, not even a birthday. I wrote it because of my affinity for Stallworth and because of concerns about his health, which I wanted to clear up for the many Shocker fans who hold him in such high regard.

Jordan was celebrated because of the date on his birth certificate. And, again, I don’t have a problem with making not of his 50th birthday. He is an iconic figure in the history of sports.

I’m just not sure about all of the attempts to dig deeper into Jordan, a man who has never willfully accepted such scrutiny. One of the best things about Jordan is that he’s done all he can to keep his private life private as his basketball life was on full display.

So thanks for the highlights. It was fun to spend a half hour or so the other day watching Jordan do what he did best – play basketball. I don’t care what anybody says about LeBron James or the other great players throughout history, there will never be another Jordan.

If anything, his futility as an owner is sad. I don’t know if it diminishes his contributions as a player – I don’t know if anything could – but it doesn’t help his legacy.

Then again, it doesn’t really hurt his legacy, either. Because his legacy is about being a basketball player. It’s not about being an owner, a father, a husband, a friend, a gardener, a poet . . . it’s about one thing.

For everything Jordan was on the basketball floor, he’s nothing like it as a private citizen. He’s still Michael Jordan, of course, except that he isn’t. Know what I mean?

There’s a sadness in that, I suppose. He’s not the first professional athlete to struggle with life after sports. I’m sure Jordan thought he could fulfill his competitive urges as an owner. But he can’t take the last shot for those Bobcats players. He can’t create a magic potion that make them him.

So I’ve spent more than 800 words here today trying to explain why I don’t find Jordan all that interesting as he begins his 50s. There’s a contradiction here, I’m aware, in trying to be interesting while trying to explain while the Jordan of today isn’t. I’ve given it my best shot.