The Retirement of Michael Jordan reports on the first time Jordan steps down from the Chicago Bulls.

North County 10/13/93

THE NEW JORDAN RULES

Michael JordanMichael Jordan is tired of being Michael Jordan.

Sports version of Elvis Presley has decided to hand in his celebrity card at the expense of the game he loves. A game that has loved him back, like few games have loved an athlete before. It is impossible to believe anybody could have that kind of love affair with a sport again.

For the last three years basketball’s premier attraction has played no less than 120 games a season, won three titles, and captured his second gold medal, which has apparently capped a career that will leave no doubt who was the greatest talent to grace a professional basketball court. But it was never the game that pushed Michael Jordan around the way the glow of his star has, and in the last few years the backlash of fame has pushed him as far as he will go.

Gambling allegations, celebrity golf tournaments, endless endorsements, and finally, the brutal murder of his father this past summer, has pushed the world’s most recognizable personality to retire in his prime.

Since the day he held a basketball in his hand, Michael Jordan has been pushing back. Every challenge has been conquered with that ball in his hand. When the ball was absent, life, was not so simple.

No human being could be that proficient at anything else, have that much control in the outcome of events. Michael Jordan was as close to perfection as any athlete gets between the lines, but real life problems are not the final seconds of a fourth quarter when Jordan would clear the floor, ignore everyone in the jam-packed building, and take charge.

Michael Jordan didn’t become the icon that he is today until well into his pro career as a member of the Chicago Bulls, a mediocre franchise in a league that had been on it last legs until he, Larry Bird, and Magic Johnson saved it.

Since the day he held a basketball in his hand, Michael Jordan has been pushing back. Every challenge has been conquered with that ball in his hand. When the ball was absent, life, was not so simple.

As a freshman, he was never the focal point of North Carolina’s 1982 national championship team. Dean Smith was known for coaching teams, not players; and even though it was young Jordan’s jump shot that sealed the win in the final seconds of the final game of the season, his stock seemingly failed to rise when two years later the Houston Rockets and Portland Trailblazers passed him up in the NBA draft.

Jordan won the Rookie of the Year award just the same, turning the act of dunking a basketball into a work of art. How he soared above the crowded lane of giants, disseminating logic of physics, while sliding the ball through the cylinder as if it were an afterthought to his midair ballet.

But those beatific moments paled in comparison to the way he developed into the ultimate compete player. Jordan was a scoring machine, bleeding you with jumper after jumper, only to blow by you off the dribble. Then, when you had the rock, he was as tenacious a defender as the game had ever witnessed.

He was basketball’s Babe Ruth, and as one of the Bambino’s many biographers once told me, “It was as if he had come from another planet.”

Like Ruth, and the century’s most influential athlete, Muhammed Ali, he transcended not only his sport, but the world of sports itself.

But unlike those guys, Jordan calls it quits before the legend outlives the body. In fact, except for Rocky Marciano and Jim Brown, both of whom exited their sport at the pinnacle of excellence, nobody had ever walked away so soon, so good. But Marciano, undefeated in 49 professional bouts, chose to feed off every minute of his celebrity until his untimely death, and Brown, football’s version of Superman, took the first plane to Hollywood and hung his star on the silver screen.

Michael Jordan says he doesn’t want to make movies, or become America’s guest, or sit in a TV booth and stumble through inane analysis of a game he played as if he was imbued with divinity.

No, His Airness is trading in his crown for a golf club and an afternoon with his family. He’s trading in his million-dollar smile for a five-cent laugh with friends.

He walks away, for now. Will he return? I think it’s not as certain as his 15-foot fade away jump shot, but for today, the man will stop being everyone’s expectations of Michael Jordan. He’ll try to find that enthusiastic kid who wanted to take his God-given talent and make a run at a dream.

Then, and only then, will Michael Jordan be back.

For now, he’ll be someone else.

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Reggie White’s free-agent tour of the NFL ‘s analysis on free-agency in pro sports.

North County News 8/17/93

INMATES IN CHARGE

You have to feel for Reggie White. It’s not enough to be the most sought after free agent in the first year of the NFL bidding wars, but he’s currently burdened with attempting to restructure every team that is willing to shell out the big bucks to procure him.

When White blew through Jets’ camp last week, he was hit with the sudden urge to announce that the franchise should go ahead with its proposed trade with Cincinnati to acquire the services of one Boomer Esiason. The next day it was a done deal. On the surface, you might be inclined to view this as a man overstepping the boundaries of decorum, when in essence the guy just was trying to fit into the brand new trend in sport’s etiquette. From the looks of things, the people who sweat for a living are now donning power ties and dictating team policy.

“Athlete Management” is sweeping the New York area. The most influential, and usually the most expensive, player on a local team decides to take over the reigns of command by personal decree.

“Athlete Management” is sweeping the New York area. The most influential, and usually the most expensive, player on a local team decides to take over the reigns of command by personal decree.

Sure, you remember when Rangers’ captain, Mark Messier had philosophical differences with head coach, Roger Nielson. The five-time champion used his clout with Garden management and fans to run Nielson right out of town. Despite the fact that the team was coming off a season where they compiled the best record in the game, it was good-bye and good luck for Nielson.

Who could forget the exploits of Pepper Johnson, who had the bright idea of organizing a coup de tat against Giants’ defensive coordinator, Rod Rust because he and most of the spoiled veterans couldn’t quite get his scheme down. Of course, the simple matter of tackling the opposition with all the ferocity of the Brooklyn Boys Choir was never an issue.

Derrick Coleman spent all of the previous NBA season deciding when he felt like playing because in his mind his coach, Bill Fitch, was a lost puppy, and there would be no use trying for a guy that was headed for the unemployment line. So, when New Jersey Nets’ GM, Willis Reed sent Fitch packing, he asked Chuck Daly to consult with Coleman for approval..

Then of course there was the request that Jeff Torborg quit having all those meetings by the infamous, Vince Coleman. When the Mets’ invisible man led the rest of the team in his mini-revolt they were a few games under .500, and in some semblance of a pennant race. The meetings subsided and the Mets dropped out of sight.

So when you take a step back, you discover that Mr. White is just the new kid on the block trying to assimilate and pitch in for the greater good of the metropolitan sports scene. Apparently, when Reggie returns to talk to the Giants, he plans to address the long lines to the bathroom at half time.

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1993 Phillies ‘s on the scene lockerroom meeting with baseball’s wild bunch

North County 6/16/93

THE 1993 PHILLIES: AS ANIMATED AS THEY COME

Last weekend the first-place Philadelphia Phillies, the team with the best record in baseball, invaded Shea Stadium. I’d been hearing tall tales about this wild bunch; but as often happens in sports, a team is straddled with an animal image by the media that falls far short of its bite. It is always incumbent on beat writers to manipulate that vision of an animated bunch and turn them into a maniacal clan of loons crashing through the league like a band of pirates out of control. But although it sells newspapers and makes for interesting headlines, it is far from anything resembling the truth. So I decided to stop by the visitor’s clubhouse at Shea Stadium before a game to see for myself.

When I approached the door of the place I could already hear music blaring from within. The security guard leaning back on his chair skipped me as a look as if to say, “Are you sure you want to go in there?” But I’d heard loud rock music emanating from a winning clubhouses before, in fact, last year’s Braves locker room could have doubled for the set of Saturday Night Fever. Never mind the inner sanctum of the 1990 Cincinnati Reds when the Nasty Boys were romping their way to a title.

On cue, Kruk leapt to his feet, grabbed a ball, wound up and hurled an out-of-control pitch across the crowded clubhouse. This sent players, reporters and shocked witnesses scurrying for safety.

Once inside I was quickly, if not painfully, able to ascertain that this was no ordinary sound system; unless, of course, I wandered on stage at a Mettalica show. But even though the volume was close to excruciating, I had little trouble picking up the booming voice of catcher, Darren Daulton with amazing clarity.

“How many people are coming tonight?” he asked an unsuspecting clubhouse boy.

“About fifteen, sixteen thousand; I think,” the shaken young man answered meekly. Daulton then stood on a stool in front of his messy locker, a hulking man of 6’2 and 220 pounds, and bellowed. “That’s all that’s showing to see the battlin’ Phils?!”

Suddenly, a breeze blew by my ear. When I tuned to notice, Mickey Morandini, the pesky little second baseman sporting the ugliest goat-tee since Robin Hood, was swinging the biggest bat I’d ever seen just inches from my head. Above the din I could hear him mumbling, “Stay down on the ball” over and over with each swing.

Things were getting dangerous, so I moved to the corner lockers of feisty, Lenny Dyksra and burly, John Kruk; both in different stages of undress. The man they call “Nails”, back when he was patrolling centerfield for the New York Mets, was preoccupied with throwing his clothes in a feverish search for his lucky batting gloves. Where are my batting gloves?” Dykstra began to scream, his face getting more red with anger. “Don’t tell me I made this trip without my gloves?!”

Meanwhile, Kruk was busy entertaining Philly beat writers, who collectively seemed oblivious to this chaos, and spitting what I believed to be huge wads of tobacco from his gruff, portly face anywhere he deemed appropriate. The gregarious first baseman is not your basic finally tuned major leaguer, but a man born to play the lead role in a caveman flick. Yet he leads the National League in just about every offensive category, looking right at home with this biker gang masquerading as a baseball team.

Just then, former Phillies shortstop, and present third base coach Larry Bowa stormed in the scene to address Kruk’s pitching prowess. “Johnny,” he cracked. “Show us that backdoor slider.” On cue, Kruk leapt to his feet, grabbed a ball, wound up and hurled an out-of-control pitch across the crowded clubhouse. This sent players, reporters and shocked witnesses scurrying for safety.

This was about all I needed to see, when out of the back room sauntered Mitch Williams, the man who carries the moniker of “Wild Thing” like a badge of courage. He is an expert closer and a big reason this team is where it’s at in the standings. He also looked as though he’d just escaped from a mental institution. Just like everyone in this room, he has wild flowing hair, a ragged beard and what looked like a headband right out of Rambo wrapped around his sweaty forehead.

“Everybody shut-up!” he shouted. “Let’s play this game already, I’m gonna explode!”

As I was running out of there I could still hear him scream in that high-pitched squeal. “Take no prisoners!” And I couldn’t help thinking of three words of advice for the rest of the National League: Give up now.

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Remembering Jim Valvano ‘s moving eulogy for Jimmy V.

North County 5/5/93

REMEMBERING JIMMY V

Jim ValvanoWhen word came over my car radio last Wednesday that Jim Valvano had succumbed to cancer after a two-year battle that ended in a room at Duke University hospital, I immediately stopped to notice my surroundings. It just so happens that I found myself in a neighborhood much like the one in which Jimmy V grew up. I rolled to a stop across from a school yard where some kids were shooting hoops behind a twenty-foot fence.

As I watched them play, I thought about Jimmy dribbling around a similar school yard years ago. How he put his first shot through the orange cylinder, snapping the net.

How his father, already a successful coach, must have tutored him in the nuances of the game. The hours of practice that turns casual interest into a fanaticism that convinces a young man that life would no longer be worth living without it.

As the cool breeze of the day swept through my car window, I was frozen by the thought of all the impressionable minds a coach or teacher touch by handing down the love and passion for a sport; not just the nuts and bolts of it, but the way it feels to impart the knowledge of experience. To push a little farther ahead than perhaps even the student thinks he may go. To win the battle within, before the battle with the opposition can be won.

What Jim Valvano realized in the last weeks of his 47 years among us is that he had been hugging people all along. After all, isn’t that what teaching is all about? To embrace the eager mind, and mold it into a sculpture that reflects the devotion of their spirit.

In the last two years of his life, Jim Valvano was even better at touching us with his love and passion for life. Basketball was merely his metaphor, a vehicle to make us stand and take notice of his extraordinary personality. He cajoled us to witness his suffering while he smiled and joked his way through endless antidotes the way he always had before cancer had taken hold of his body.

He took on the fight the way he took his North Carolina State Wolfpack miracle team all the way past the powerful Houston Cougars in Albuquerque to win the 1983 National Championship.

It was not only the finest example of coaching in the history of the sport, pro or otherwise, it solidified the NCAA Tournament into the second biggest sporting event behind only the Super Bowl, but what we remember most about that night is the image of him running helplessly around the mass of elated humanity looking desperately for someone to hug.

What Jim Valvano realized in the last weeks of his 47 years among us is that he had been hugging people all along. After all, isn’t that what teaching is all about? To embrace the eager mind, and mold it into a sculpture that reflects the devotion of their spirit.

Books by James Campion are available on this web site or at Amazon & Barnes & Nobleclick to order

It was then that I realized what Jimmy V was saying when uttered, “Never give up,” his rallying cry those last few months. “Cancer can take my body, but it can’t take my mind and my heart and my soul.”

Jim Valvano is gone now, but his soul lives on in every kid who may pick up a basketball, or a bat, or a pencil. And even though they may never know his name, like those kids who were playing just outside my car on that cool spring afternoon, they will pass it on forever.

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Bob Klapish vs. Bobby Bonilla ‘s report on a baseball beat writer’s clash with N.Y. Mets player.

North County 4/14/93

CLUBHOUSE ETIQUETTE

Bob Klapish and John Harper were beat writers covering the pitiful 1992 Mets for rival newspapers in New York. Through years of work, and a network of contacts, they decided to jot down the various daily unmentionables a good reporter is normally privy to. Their combined efforts are documented in a new book entitled, “The Worst Team Money Could Buy.”

Fortuitously, Harper moved from the Post to the Yankees beat at the Daily News while Klapish was promoted to baseball columnist at the very same paper this off-season. Immediate retribution for the book from angered ball players was postponed.

As luck would have it, my co-host, Tom Ragone and myself welcomed Mr. Klapish as one of our many guests on last week’s “Sports Nite” radio program. After discussing the varied sexploits, back-stabbing, and name-calling mentioned in the tome, I posed this question: “When you cross paths with the gentlemen depicted in your book, what do expect from them?”

Having spent a considerable part of the past four summers in Major League locker rooms, I’m here to tell you it is no picnic. The players can be intimidating, and their humor and antics can often seem mean-spirited to an outsider. But you’re there to do a job, so you get your interview and move on.

“Believe me, they’re well aware of what’s in the book,” Klapish answered. “And as you can imagine, some of them are taking it pretty hard. But John and I didn’t write the thing to win any popularity contests.”

As fate would have it, Kaplish was pressed into Mets beat duty subbing for Steve Serby last Saturday, and while attempting to appropriate a quote from Dwight Gooden, he went toe to toe with Bobby Bonilla. Fresh off his own personal season in hell, Bonilla was extra surly, and decided to bodily threaten the writer on his turf; the clubhouse.

Having spent a considerable part of the past four summers in Major League locker rooms, I’m here to tell you it is no picnic. The players can be intimidating, and their humor and antics can often seem mean-spirited to an outsider. But you’re there to do a job, so you get your interview and move on.

When you look at this from a matter of trust, you probably side with Bonilla. Let’s face it, when players smile at us, and tell us that money has nothing to do with their motivation for playing the game while they rake in the dough, we rip them good. So what’s fair is fair, and Klapish and his buddy took trusted relationships built from off-the-record quotes and outside-the-lines activity and turned it into a profit-making proposition.

Is it wrong? Absolutely not. Is it a standup nice thing to do? Probably not. But Klapish doesn’t care either way. Can you blame any player for becoming a bit perturbed?

This, of course, does not absolve Bonilla from childish act of threatening another man with bodily harm, but just like when the Mets’ right-fielder strikes out with the bases loaded, Klapish must face the music.

The prediction here is that Bobby Bo and his tormentor will kiss and make up. Klapish is a fine baseball writer with great influence, connections, and a foothold in New York sports; and Bonilla, who is obviously overwhelmed by the pressures of playing for big money in the Big Apple, won’t be around nearly as long.

Which illustrates once again that the pen is mightier than the bat.

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