Jordan Announces Retirement
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January, 14, 1999; Page D1
CHICAGO, Jan. 13 Michael Jordan, sitting beneath six championship banners and accompanied by dozens of friends, former teammates and other admirers, announced his retirement from the NBA this morning, saying he could no longer muster the mental energy to play a 14th season.
"Mentally, I'm exhausted," he said at a United Center news conference attended by NBA Commissioner David Stern, Chicago Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf and more than 800 journalists from around the world.
Jordan, however, refused to say flatly he had played his last NBA game.
"I never say never," he said.
Instead, he called his decision "99.9 percent" final, adding: "You can read that for what it's worth. I'm very secure in my decision."
Sitting near center court in an arena built in large part to accommodate his enormous popularity, Jordan spoke quietly, keeping his emotions steadfastly in check. Wearing a dark suit, white shirt and gold tie, with his wife Juanita at his side, he flashed his trademark smile only a couple of times but never seemed on the verge of tears, either.
"Physically, I feel great," he said. "But I have to make a judgment in terms of the desire, and I can't honestly say that's going to be there every time I step into this building. And I've always been sure about that. I don't want to fool myself going into a situation knowing that I'm not 100 percent challenged mentally. ... This is a perfect time for me to walk away from the game. I'm at peace with that."
Jordan retired one other time, in October 1993, when he took a 16-month leave to pursue a career in baseball and to recover from the murder of his father.
This time, he departs under far different circumstances. He's a few weeks from celebrating his 36th birthday and since his last retirement has led the Bulls to three more championships, including last summer's defeat of the Utah Jazz.
Jordan said he essentially reached his decision after last season and informed Reinsdorf at the time. He said Reinsdorf urged him to reconsider, but Jordan said he never came close to playing again.
He brushed off suggestions that Coach Phil Jackson's retirement or his frequent feuds with Bulls General Manager Jerry Krause played a role in his departure. In the end, the grind of another season did not appeal to him.
Jordan would not have been ready for the start of this delayed season even if he had wanted to play. He'll undergo surgery next week to repair a tendon in his right index finger that Jordan said he severed while using a cigar cutter during a vacation in the Bahamas.
"My decision was reached long before this happened," he said. "The doctors said I couldn't play for about two months. ... I just hope it doesn't hurt my golf game."
Jordan was vague about his future plans, mentioning only that he would drive his children he has three to school more often and do things that are "so simple in a lot of people's lives and never really been enjoyed by me. ... Now, I get to dissect some of those simple things. I'm just going to enjoy life and do some of the things that I've never done before."
One of those things will be playing more golf. Jordan today committed to play in the pro-am portion of the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic Jan. 20-24 in La Quinta, Calif. He'll be paired with longtime NBA buddy Charles Barkley and former NFL star Roy Green.
Otherwise, he said he had no plans outside of his family. Asked if he had any interest in coaching, he said: "I want to get away from basketball a little bit and look at it from afar. If the interest evolves somewhere down the road, that's fine. But right now, the only coaching I can do is at home, and I'm having a tough time doing that."
He promised a lower public profile while continuing to endorse such products as Gatorade and Nike shoes. "I'm sure Michael is busy exploring the limits of capitalism," Stern joked.
Jordan leaves having more than secured his place in history as the greatest NBA performer of all time and perhaps the greatest player in any team sport. From his fierce competitive spirit on the floor to his grace and dignity off it, Jordan was adored as few other athletes have been, and his retirement brought a flood of reaction from around the world.
President Clinton urged Americans to "take a day or two to ooh and ahh" over the magnificence of Jordan's career, adding: "We admire him, we like him very much, and we thank him for years of thrilling exploits. ... In my life, I don't know if I ever saw another athlete with such a remarkable set of qualities of mind, body and spirit."
Reinsdorf, so often portrayed as the prototypical cold businessman, seemed near tears as he presented Jordan with his sixth championship ring.
"This is a day that I think I hoped would never come," he said. "Standing here where Michael Jordan has given us so many wonderful moments, performances and championships it's hard to imagine games being played here without him. Michael is simply the best player who ever put on a basketball uniform."
Reinsdorf retired Jordan's No. 23 for the second time in more than five years. "We are returning your number 23 to its rightful place of honor, where it will forever serve as a reminder of your dominance on this court and your dominance of this game," Reinsdorf said.
Jordan's retirement leaves the NBA without its most marketable star at a time when the league is attempting to assess the damage of a labor dispute that forced the cancellation of more than a third of the regular season. Jordan entered the NBA at a time when Magic Johnson and Larry Bird had helped a league tarnished by drug scandals and other problems regain its luster.
His winning performances on the court and his winning personality off it continued the growth. Now, Stern and other NBA executives are hoping young stars such as Grant Hill of the Detroit Pistons, Tim Duncan of the San Antonio Spurs and Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers will step into the void.
"This is a very strong league," Stern said. "It's made more strong by Michael Jordan. When Larry Bird and Magic Johnson retired, everyone said, 'The NBA is over.' No one even mentioned Michael. This is an unforgiving league. You have to win. Right now, there are eight to 10 teams that think they'll be the next champions of the NBA. That's the sign of a very strong league."
But Jordan leaves the Bulls in bad shape. Sources said the team will name Tim Floyd as its new coach and begin a rebuilding process by re-signing star swingman Scottie Pippen. But even if the Bulls keep Pippen and add a top free agent, such as forward Antonio McDyess, they won't be what they once were.
"Let's face it," center Bill Wennington said, "it's going to be difficult without Michael."
Jordan was accompanied by his mother, agent David Falk and a host of former coaches and teammates, including Tex Winter, John Paxson, B.J. Armstrong and Buzz Peterson. He joked that friends like Barkley and Patrick Ewing of the New York Knicks were particularly unhappy because even if they play on championship teams, it won't be a team that defeated Jordan's Bulls.
"Patrick won't be able to live with himself," Jordan said, smiling. "And I always told Charles he never was dedicated enough to winning. ... Even if they win a championship, they can never say they came through Chicago."
As for Jordan, he never seemed close to losing his composure, and when someone mentioned this near the end of the news conference, Jordan smiled.
"I'm doing a good job of trying to hold back the emotions, because it's like taking away something that I truly have loved for the last 24 years," he said. "It's sad that I have to that I'm leaving the game, but it's happy because my life is starting to go into a whole other stage. Basketball for me was the first stage, it got me to this point in my life. I knew it had to end. My life takes on a different stage now, and it's a different challenge, and I welcome that. I chose to walk away knowing that I can still play the game, and that's what I've always wished for my career to end that's exactly the way I wanted to end it."
© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company