A friend told me last week that Michael Jordan was going to play in this year’s National Basketball Association All-Star Game, and it took me by surprise. Jordan retired in 1999, and coming out of retirement to play one game, against the best basketball players in the world, seemed a bit foolish, if not arrogant.
Then my friend told me that Jordan had actually been playing for the last two years, for a team called the Washington Wizards, who were called the Bullets when Jordan started playing.
I didn’t believe it. The same Michael Jordan, I asked?
The same Michael Jordan, she said.
Does he wear number 23 and everything, I asked?
Yes, he wears number 23 and everything, she said.
Shocked, I went on the Internet and confirmed my friend’s suspicions. Michael Jordan had, in fact, been playing in the NBA for the last two years. I even watched SportsCenter hoping for a glimpse of him, but all I saw were some Clippers/Bulls highlights.
Saturday night, I gathered with my friends to watch the NBA’s Saturday Night All-Star Extravaganza, which includes a four-on-four game, a rookie/sophomore game, the three-point contest, and the dunk contest which Jordan made famous. I was excited because I wanted to see Jordan in the dunk contest. He was always good at that.
After two hours, the dunkers were introduced in the “young stars” dunking challenge, which meant Jordan couldn’t participate. I was outraged. The man comes back to the NBA, and they’re so afraid he’ll win the contest they don’t let him in?
Fear not, I thought, he’ll get his revenge on the All-Star starters. Magic Johnson and Larry Bird are gone, and the great players now—Kobe Bryant, Tracy McGrady, and Vince Carter—all modeled their games after Jordan’s. Certainly he’d teach them a lesson!
Someone nudged me. He wasn’t starting.
Wasn’t starting? Michael Jordan wasn’t starting the All-Star Game? Had anyone done DNA tests on this man to prove he was actually Michael Jordan? Jordan not starting the All-Star Game is like doing Hamlet without Hamlet.
But everything quickly fell into place. Carter gave up his starting spot to Jordan, who seemed surprised but accepted anyway. Unfortunately, I was soon less convinced that he was the same player who won those six championships.
He missed his first six shots, including a dunk. He got shots blocked. He came out of the game to rest. He looked slow.
Toward the end of the game, it looked like every possession would matter, and with three seconds left Jordan took a shot to win the game, and missed. He could barely jump, and hit the back of the rim.
As always, that wasn’t the end. He got another chance at a game-winner in overtime, and made his patented fallaway jumper from the side. That was the Michael Jordan I had been missing, and the Michael Jordan worthy of the All-Star Game. Even though the West eventually won after a nonsensical foul, it was nice to have the real Jordan back—for the first time.