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Commentary from
USN Executive Producer, Andre Taylor.

Hot Air
March, 2001

The need to pump up ratings, sell magazines, and generate buzz has led to a kind of worldwide media chain letter sharing a "scoop," predicting Michael Jordan's return to playing basketball based on sketchy information from unnamed sources. "The source" claims to be close to the now 360-pound Charles Barkley, a man rumored to have devised a scheme whereby he and His Airness would become players for the Washington Wizards of the National Basketball Association (NBA).

Barkley, whose rotund physique balloons even more when viewed through the fun-house glass of televised pregame shows, may be engineering his own brand of wizardry. Indeed it would be grand to see Jordan come back and clean up the poop we now have to endure in the circus known as the National Basketball Association (NBA). You can already sense the giddiness of ringmaster David Stern, but this circus may never come to town.

Barkley and Jordan have started rigorous workout routines. But that's because young basketball players, generally tall, elegant, and muscular black men, find that they become a little rounder and a little heavier just like everyone else when they're not running up and down the court every day. The simultaneous decision of Barkley and Jordan to work on slimming down their larger physiques appears to be mere coincidence.

"If Charles is losing weight and something like that provides motivation for him, that's good for him," Jordan says. "That is not a source of motivation for me to get back into shape…. I am working out because I got up to 240 pounds, and I'm trying to lose weight. Playing basketball at a health club against, in essence, some weekend warriors, is the best way I know how to lose weight. People are taking this stuff way too far, but I can't control what people write or think so I'm not going to address this any more."

The word on the street is that Jordan is bored. It's said His Airness has not been able to get excited about his various business ventures, including his long-distance management of the Wizards from his home in Chicago, Illinois. Jordan has also lost a dollar or two like many investors in today's soft equity markets. And some business ventures, like Internet retailer MVP.com - where Jordan was an investor and spokesman with cohorts National Football League (NFL) Denver Broncos superstar John Elway, and National Hockey League (NHL) New York Rangers legend Wayne Gretzky - have flat-out fizzled.

It is certainly plausible that His Airness is looking for something to get excited about. When athletes stop playing they quickly have to make concessions. A promising new chapter in their lives quickly becomes grounded in the grit of starting over. No matter how high they've climbed, and how heroic their portrait during playing days, the cheering stops. There are no daily highlights, no locker room quotes, and no packed arenas with choruses of fans shouting in unison. Assorted moves orchestrated by agents, managers, and handlers during their sports career to illustrating the intelligence of the athlete in business are now obviously symbolic. The well-dressed athlete is left standing in the equivalent of the emperor's new clothes.

While all of this talk of Jordan's return has created quite a rush in the heads of basketball fans, watch out and be careful that you don't fall. Jordan left on the perfect note: the last shot winning the 1998 NBA title - his sixth NBA championship. If nothing else, Jordan knows that at 38 it would be hard to top that performance. As a man well schooled in the art of crafting his own image, don't think he's going to come back to a down market and overly tattooed NBA. He knows he has lots of options, and it's fun to think about Jordan returning. The ubiquitous and contradictory optimism and discontent of NBA fans makes us all believers. But in the end, even when it comes to Michael Jordan, you can expect the end of talk about a comeback that is nothing but hot air.

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