The wait is killing us. Basketball fans want to know in some cases need to know if Michael Jordan has taken his final shot as a player in the National Basketball Association. The future of Jordan and the Chicago Bulls was a major subplot to the 1997-98 NBA season. While the Bulls went about the business of winning another world championship, everyone was dogging the various members of the organization along the way to find out if this was indeed a last hurrah. Jordan, now 35 but still capable of pulling us out of our seats at any moment after another spectacular play, said he'd considered coming back for another season if the rest of his championship cast came back.
Once the Bulls defeated the Utah Jazz in the finals for their sixth championship in eight years in June, coach Phil Jackson wasted little time in cleaning out his office and heading to Montana. Scottie Pippin, one of the greatest players in league history in his own right, sounded like a man who was ready to claim free-agent riches from another team when he spoke right after the Finals. The 1998 season sure felt like the last ride for one of the great teams in basketball history.
Then the lockout came in July. Basketball players and owners couldn't figure out how to divide the millions upon millions of dollars coming into their collective bank accounts. Players transactions were put indefinitely on hold. As summer came to an end, the league's record of never missing a regular- season game due to a labor dispute appeared in serious jeopardy. But the casual fan didn't care much about that. That fan was more interested in knowing if Jordan would ever play again, and that hadn't been resolved as of late September.
So, we wait.
At least Jordan has given us something to do while waiting for some sort of resolution. He has produced a book called For the Love of the Game, which reviews his pro career to date. It was produced in conjunction with the same people who worked on Rare Air with him, and it features a similar if much larger format.
Jordan and his staff went through almost 10,000 photographs to pick out the 200 used in the book. A particularly striking one is a double-page shot of Jordan's personal trophy room at home. The shelves are stacked up with awards, as you'd expect, but the floor contains the biggest surprise. It's made up of the wood from the middle of the basketball court at the new demolished Chicago Stadium, complete with the angry bull's face in the center circle.
The photos are complimented by more than 20,000 words by Jordan himself. It's an effort to put his career into a bit more perspective than we usual get from him. The daily sound bites in the media from Jordan usually center on his next game or his last game, so it's nice to read him expounding on some different subjects.
No one could blame Jordan if he decided to quit basketball right now. He is universally acclaimed as the greatest all-around player in the history of his sport, and he's won championships in his last six full seasons. Jordan's final moment in the 1998 playoffs might have been his best. He stole a pass from Utah's Karl Malone and then hit a jump shot in the final seconds to give his team a victory and a title in Game Six all while realizing that an injury to Pippin would make victory for his team in Game Seven an almost impossible task. No one could have staged a better exit line.
But then again, another championship will be an even greater challenge this coming season, and as For the Love of the Game proves Jordan always has liked a challenge. His fans, then, will look through this book, smile at the memories of his accomplishments, and wait to see if he will add to them in the future.
Budd Bailey is a writer in Buffalo, New York.