July 15, 1996 in Sports

Terms Of Endearment

Bernie Lincicome Chicago Tribu
 

As long as Michael Jordan is happy, the rest of us should be able to get back to ignoring baseball or whatever there is between now and the first Olympic beach volleyball game in Atlanta.

But this is what is true about Jordan’s re-enlistment with the Bulls:

(1) He came cheap.

(2) He is not quitting after one more year.

(3) Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf should feel better about being able to pay Jordan $30 million than Jordan should about taking it.

It is, in the larger picture of life, better to be the donor than the donee, and while Jordan may be the highest-paid athlete per season ever, Reinsdorf is also the highest payer. There is some little glory in that.

Imagine Michelangelo looking up at the chapel ceiling and saying, “Look what I did.” Pope Julius could always say, “Sure, but don’t forget who bought the paint.”

This leaves in place the immutable gospel of sports, that lumpy old men in dull suits still control sleek young men in short pants.

This was, all around, a tidy little solution, enough history to be shared and enough spin to dry drapes.

This is Jordan’s reward for time served, this one-lump ransom, conscience money to make up for all those years of blushing at what a bargain Jordan was? Believe it not.

If Reinsdorf were to honestly compensate Jordan for that, the millions would be in three figures, not two. If Reinsdorf had been fair, he would have renegotiated the contract after Year 1 and several subsequent times.

Jordan can never be paid what he has been worth to the Bulls, to the NBA, to Chicago.

No matter that Jordan now will make more money for one season than Wayne Gretzky, Cecil Fielder and Deion Sanders - the highest-paid figures in the other three primary sports - put together. This is as it should be. The shame of it is that this became true only when Jordan had the option to sell himself elsewhere.

Reinsdorf is no more generous than he had to be and Jordan is no more agreeable than his comfort permits.

The one-year contract will allow Jordan to assess the level of his skills and interest? Why a two- or three-year contract would not do the same thing is unclear. If Jordan felt bad about taking money he didn’t earn - never mind that anything he would get in 1999 he already deserved from 1989 - he could just not take it.

Isn’t that what he did when he played baseball? He didn’t. Well, maybe the next time he would.

Jordan will not embarrass himself? Bunk. He is several curveballs and long irons beyond embarrassing himself.

What he will do is accommodate himself. As he should. This has already begun. Jordan does not do what Jordan did. He does not do what made him the greatest player ever.

He is not the statue in front of the United Center. He is not the logo on his shoes, the spread-legged slam-dunker. He is a fade-away jump shooter, and a darn good one, but not the best who ever did it.

He does not sky, he does not fly. We all understand this. The decline of Jordan is inevitable. That is why he should be here. Only Chicago will be sympathetic. Only Chicago will not giggle. Has Ryne Sandberg been booed?

Athletes do not quit at the top, especially great athletes. Jordan did not. Babe Ruth did not. Magic Johnson did not. John McEnroe did not. Jim Brown did, but he was ready to come back at age 40.

Jordan had his chance to leave on his terms. Now he will leave on someone else’s.

Jordan is back with the Bulls because it was easier to be back with the Bulls. Jordan is back with the Bulls because he has a greater chance of winning a title here than he would anywhere else. He is back because, just maybe, he likes it here.

As if his reasons matter.

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Bernie Lincicome Chicago Tribune


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