Let's Just Call Off the Whole NBA Season
Washington Post Columnist
Thursday, January 14, 1998; Page D1
Cancel the season.
You heard me: Blow it up. Don't play the games.
The NBA should declare a period of mourning for Michael Jordan, and it should run all the way to next season. Nobody wants to see a 50-game season anyway let alone without Jordan.
The eventual champion will be tainted regardless. The only city that will applaud the champion is the city that wins. We know this here. The Redskins won two Super Bowls in strike-altered seasons. Their third Super Bowl was the one the nation recognized most.
This season was doomed even before Jordan retired because of the horrible display of smugness put on by the owners and players in their labor negotiations. As they postured back and forth about the correct way to divide two billion dollars, neither side seemed concerned that three months of the season were already canceled. This was a fight between short millionaires and tall millionaires, the public be damned.
The only people who stand to gain from playing this bruised season are the very people who assaulted it the owners and players. It's been clear for months that fans didn't care if the season was played. With Jordan out of the mix there's even less reason to continue a charade of a season.
Wizards vs. Bucks. It's not quite faaaantastic, is it?
So yank it.
Okay, I'm overreacting. I'll take this back tomorrow. I'll reflect upon the entertainment the NBA gives us the soaring ballet, the marvelous drama and I'll want the season to start.
But that will be my head overruling my heart.
Today my heart says: Shut it down.
What do I want to see the Wizards for? Who have they got that will thrill me?
The only games the Wizards/Bullets played in the last decade that had any juice were those games against Jordan and the Bulls. Oh, there were a few standout games here and there a couple of times when Webber and Howard played great together, giving us hope (that turned out to be false); the home opener in 1994, when Rex Chapman hit a long jump shot at the buzzer to beat Orlando; Bernard King going for 52 one night in 1990. But King was a short-timer here, a rental car.
The most exhilarating moments for Washington fans in all the '90s were those three playoff games against the Bulls in 1997 especially Game 2, when Jordan scored 55, and Chicago needed every one to win. Michael Jordan was easily the most popular basketball player in Washington in the last 15 years. Easily.
People have lined up to say this is the right time for Jordan to go out on that storybook note of hitting the jumper that won the NBA championship against Utah. Maybe it is the right time for Jordan. But it isn't for us. Jordan leaves us with a cobbled, slapdash season that undoubtedly will be the least satisfying in the past 20 years.
The spin the NBA people want you to believe is that the NBA will go on. Of course it will. Like that horrible Celine Dion song from "Titanic." But how will it go on? Do you remember a few years ago, when Jordan retired the first time, and the finals were between the Knicks and the Rockets? That wasn't basketball, it was battery. It was low-scoring, bad-shooting, high-fouling basketball. The only good thing that came out of that endless O.J. Simpson car chase was that it diverted attention from the Knicks and Rockets for one game.
That's the kind of basketball we're looking at now in the immediate post-Jordan Era. This happened to boxing after Muhammad Ali. We got plodding Larry Holmes, who beat everybody. The problem was that everybody he beat was bad, and he never became more than a caretaker of the heavyweight championship.
Basketball is heading back now to the wasteland after Wilt and Russell, and before Magic and Bird. In the 1970s there were 10 different champions. The Bullets won their one championship in this period of feudalism. There were great teams such as the 1969-70 Knicks, the 1971-72 Lakers and the 1976-77 Trail Blazers. There were great players who led their teams to titles, such as the young Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Dave Cowens, Rick Barry and Bill Walton. But there were no great rivalries and no great dynasties. Dr. J., Magic, Bird, Isiah and finally Jordan were the luminescent stars of the last 20 years, the stars as the NBA lifted off and rose like, well, like Jordan from the foul line.
We're going back to the days of caretaker champions. It'll be like "That '70s Show."
There's a next Jordan out there. But he's probably 12 years old somewhere. Jordan's shadow will obscure everybody for the next 10 years. People will try to throw another Jordan up the pop charts, but it won't work. Gifted players such as Allen Iverson, Grant Hill and Kobe Bryant will all be sacrificed at the altar of Jordan. History will see them as transitional champs, like Larry Holmes.
The past week and a half has been a volcanic period in sports, particularly locally. John Thompson resigned; the Cooke family was outbid for the Redskins and exiled; the NBA decided to play, but now Michael Jordan, the most popular athlete in America, has retired. (As a personal aside, I can't help but notice that Bird of Prey agent David Falk has been present at so many recent unsettling events. He was at Thompson's side, at Jordan's side; he was in the middle of the NBA strife, exhorting his clients to the barricades; as Mike Krzyzewski's agent he was hanging around the Duke locker room at Cole Field House 11 days ago when Duke pounded Maryland. As Rod Strickland's agent, he keeps intimating he may have no recourse but to place Strickland somewhere else. It won't surprise me to find Falk, like Zelig, in the Milsteins's box on opening day.)
It leaves us reeling. It leaves us wondering what could happen next. Sports is the arena of the impossible dream. It's the safe haven for optimists. But everything that has happened in the NBA recently has left us staring at a glass more than half empty, listening in dread for the executioner's song.
It's why I started this by saying cancel the season.
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