Mr. Jordan Comes To Springfield

By Gary Norris Gray
Updated: April 10, 2009

CALIFORNIA — A few years ago, I wrote an article for Gibbs Magazine in Oakland. It seems appropriate to update and revise it since one of the greatest players in American sports history — Mr. Michael Jordan — will be entering the Basketball Hall of Fame this year.

This week, the sky blue and white No. 23 along with the black, red, and white No. 23 will official be hanging in the rafters in Springfield, Massachusetts.

Mr. Jordan has given basketball fans many memories and the following are just a few of them. He stuck a dagger in many New York Knick fans year after year. Michael Jordan had his own basketball signature.

One of the last times Mr. Basketball played at Madison Square Garden (MSG), the Chicago Bulls were not there this time. Yes, MJ would don his last basketball jersey with his now Hall of Fame number 23.

It was 10 years ago when we saw the NOW FAMOUS “push off and fade away” jump shot in the waning seconds of that Jazz-Bulls title game. It was that shot that captured the Bulls second three-peat and Jordan’s sixth and last NBA title.

When Michael entered the MadisonSquareGarden floor that night, one thing looked different. That uniform was blue, gold, and black, not Chicago’s red, black, and white.

That uniform said “Wizards” not “Bulls”, and oh, yes, it had Jordan’s name on the back but everybody in the Garden House knew that the game would be different.

Why? Just why, Michael? He just could not leave this great game. Mr. Jordan just could not leave as the world champion.

You just could not leave with the sweet memories of your tongue hanging out, your bony legs swinging in the air beating your defender, leaving him looking at the back of your jersey.

As you whiz by to the basket and leave him in your wake, an example was Portland’s Cliff Robinson shaking his head while you score 38 points in the first half of a playoff, and 60 for that game.

Number 23 knifes through three big men for a slam dunk; as New York Knick defenders Ewing, Camby, and Allen looking at each other with blank stares. WHAT WAS THAT?

Or slamming over the body of a very young, slim Shaquille O’Neal with a thunderous slam dunk, then looking into Shaq’s eyes stating, “You have a lot to learn son, and I’ll teach you.”

It was a statement from Mr. Jordan that he was going to kick your butt every chance he got. Believe me; Mr. Jordan did not miss too many opportunities. Six titles in nine years and two retirements.

The Easter Weekend massacre in New York City was the first time Michael returned to the courts and dropped a double nickel (55 points), as Spike Lee would say.

This is what great athletes accomplish without even thinking about it. These men and women have a wonderful perfected skill that the average man or woman seldom acquires.

Many sports analysts thought Michael was intelligent enough not to come back on the floor. Many sports freaks though Michael would let us glow in the memories of the recent six Chicago Bulls basketball titles.

Then there was that other famous shot against Cleveland Guard, Craig Ehlo. Ehlo guarded Jordan most of the game, but on this shot he had no chance. Ehlo fell to the floor out of bounds in Gund Arena while Mr. Jordan sunk the game winning shot to beat Cleveland.

Ehlo’s head was down, while he pounding his hands the floor near the Cleveland bench. Michael Jordan flew in the air with his fists pumping repeatly in mortal victory.

That was the shot that propelled the Chicago Bulls franchise to their first title 20 years ago. The shot that said, “I’m here and now you have to deal with me for the next ten years.”

As the Wizards played the New York Knicks that late October night it was a sign that time had moved on, though some of us refuse to move with old Father Time. Everybody in MSG waited for Michael to take over the game.

The crowd grew restless after Coach Doug Collins took number 23 out of the game. The magic just was not there; Mr. Jordan went 7-21, only scored four points in the third quarter and they were free throws.

As the game clock began to tick down its last final seconds, of course Michael had the basketball; of course Michael went to his favorite left corner and put up his patented jump shot.

The results were different this time. The ball clanged off the rim and into the hands of a waiting New York Knick player — not your typical Jordan ending.

Number 23 looked slow, looked tired, did not have the supporting cast he had in Chicago, and was 19 years older.

Jordan will always be remembered as one of the greatest basketball players of all times. But the time had come to let the kids take over: Carter, Shaq, Duncan, Howard, Kidd, Kobe, Iverson, Webber, Garnett, Abdur-Rahim, McGrady, and Allen.

Mr. Jordan finally put his uniform away and went back upstairs to be a basketball executive. Many Jordan fans wanted to keep those memories.

Yes, sports fans are selfish. Sports can be a wonderful and beautiful escape. Sports can be apolitical; Sports can uplift and help people forget about their troubles for a few hours or a few days.

Just ask New Yorkers about the 2001 American League champion New York Yankees after the September 11th tragedy.

Another example would be the recent Michigan State University Men’s Basketball team playing in the (NCAA) National Collegiate Athletic Association Finals in the City of Detroit, Michigan.

Basketball fans did not want you to duplicate the experiences of an older Muhammad Ali. It was an embarrassment being on the ropes getting pounded into the ground by a younger lesser-known boxer.

Ali was able to defend himself and losing the match. Other example is The Hall of Famer, Willie Mays who played center field for the New York Mets.

Mays lost a simple fly ball in the 6th game of the 1973 World Series. It broke the heart of many New York Giant and New York Met fans seeing him play in that condition.

The first day Mays arrived at Shea Stadium, he hit a home run for a Mets win, but that would be it for the aging veteran. Mays should have retired as a San Francisco Giant and never come back to New York.

Mays used to take over baseball games with his running and fielding, just as Jordan would take over basketball games with his shooting and defense.

Another example is the Great One, Number 99, Wayne Gretzky not being able to score at will in his last year with the New York Rangers.

The greatest hockey player the world has ever seen could not skate fast enough to catch up with the puck and other players on his line.

Michael Jordan ended up right alongside these formerly great and wonderful players with his basketball skills failing.

Many basketball fans hated to see these new young basketball guns take Jordan to school. It would distort the number 23 mystique and glory. That is exactly what happened before Mr. Jordan hung up his basketball shoes.

It will be a great moment in basketball history when Michael Jordan enters the Basketball Hall of Fame. The City of Chicago will be proud.

The City of Charlotte (part owner of Bobcats) hopes that their team can duplicate what Mr. Jordan perfected on the court.

Lastly, the City of New York will be very happy that they will never see that number 23 single-handedly beat the New York Knicks again.

Thank you, Michael Jordan for your wonderful and masterful career on the floor. Number 23 is truly a Hall of Famer

NOTE: A special thanks to Gibbs Magazine and Wikipedia for this information.