Last night, Michael Jordan played his last game ever. And he lost.
Every year, or so it seems, there comes a time to pay tribute to Michael Jordan. To thank him for blessing us with his grace, his drive, and those simply incomprehensible moments when he defies the greatest odds and comes out on top. Even these last two years, as his grace and drive have withered, as he no longer defies even modest odds nor comes out on top very often, we thank him all the same. And while this is partly because Jordan retires every year, or so it seems, there is a deeper desire in so many of us basketball fans who want much more than to simply show our appreciation.
We want him to never, ever, leave.
So many have criticized Jordan’s comeback with the Washington Wizards over the last two seasons. He’s tarnishing his legacy, they said. He’s sacrificing the progress of a young, up-and-coming team for his own insatiable ego. Or better yet, he’s simply injecting revenue into the franchise he partly owns.
I can’t say they’re wrong. The man’s legacy has been tarnished. There’s nothing any basketball player can do after hitting the championship-winning shot with seconds remaining in the NBA Finals that won’t tarnish his legacy. It doesn’t help, of course, that close game after close game this season, Jordan’s last-second shots bounced off the back of the rim.
And more likely than not, Jordan’s comeback has hurt the Wizards. That’s not to say Washington would be in the playoffs without Jordan — they most certainly wouldn’t — but as so many of the critics have pointed out, Jordan’s presence on the court has put enormous pressure on his teammates and coach to either succeed or defer to his every whim. There have been flashes of team chemistry among the Wizards, but only when Jordan isn’t on the floor and little Juan Dixon or Tyronn Lue isn’t worried about not passing Jordan the ball. Even in the long term, Jordan traded away a possible franchise-player in Richard Hamilton for veteran Jerry Stackhouse, who may not even re-sign with the team after this season.
As for making a little cash, there is no doubt in my mind Michael Jordan the businessman thought about how the Wizards franchise would be making a killing with his comeback. Of course every home game would be a sellout, and of course toddlers, teens, and adults all over the world would start sporting Wizards jerseys.
But who cares?
Who cares if the last two years haven’t been good for Jordan’s legacy? Who cares if it hasn’t been good for the Wizards?
All that matters, if I may be so selfish, is that it’s been good for me. And don’t kid yourself, because it’s been good for you, too. It’s been more than good. For some fans out there like me, Jordan’s comeback provided the opportunity to finally watch him play in person. For most fans, if not all of them, this third time around has re-energized our passion for basketball, our love for the game that Jordan himself epitomizes.
We jumped with joy and then cringed in frustration at his All-Star game-winner that wasn’t. Washington wasn’t ever going to make it past the first round but we hoped desperately that the Wizards would make the playoffs anyway because, of course, anything can happen in the playoffs.
For once, it hasn’t been storybook for Michael Jordan. It was all painfully human — dribbling off his foot, getting crossed over, missing dunks — and it culminated last night against the Sixers. We wanted 50 points and a buzzer beater; we got 15 and a blowout loss. Michael Jordan, God in sneakers, finally ran out of fairy-tale endings.
But it was so worth it. Just to see the tongue wagging and the hands on his knees. Just to see that smile, to witness someone play with so much joy. Just to be inspired, one last time. So thank you, Michael Jordan, for everything. For the dunk competitions, the championships, the second set of championships, and yes, even for the last two years. You are, unquestionably, the greatest.
These days, a lot of people say the NBA season is too long, with too much isolation and too many boring and insignificant regular-season games. I say it’s been far too short. I know you’ll never read this, Michael, but I want to thank you anyway, knowing it’s over but hoping you won’t ever go.