Jesus Christ, Superstar The coverage of Michael Jordan's retirement was reverent enough to suit a Supreme Being

January 25, 1999

The media have done what Craig Ehlo couldn't: We have covered
Michael Jordan without looking silly. We brought a sense of
proportion to his most recent retirement, treating the Second
Going as we would the Second Coming. They were, evidently, one
and the same.

Michael Jordan is the Supreme Being. All the sound bites told us
so. "He is not human" (Reggie Miller), "He is God disguised as
Michael Jordan" (Larry Bird), he is "Jesus" (Jayson Williams).

He is the Creator. "I would not be here were it not for Michael
Jordan," NBA analyst David Aldridge said on ESPN, which opened
one of its editions of SportsCenter last week with Jordan
highlights set to a heavenly choir.

He is a spiritual role model to millions. "People go to Nepal and
sit in an ashram for 10 years to learn what Michael [has] already
incorporated into his being," Jordan hagiographer Mark Vancil
told a solemnly nodding Charlie Rose on the latter's PBS talk
show last week. Vancil is president of Rare Air Media, which
published For the Love of the Game, a coffee-table biography of
Jordan so superior to all of humankind's previous literary
efforts that standard publishing technology was unworthy of it.
"It was printed on specially created paper ('100# Rare Air Gloss
Text')," reported The New York Times, "and manufactured in the
United States by the same printers who print brochures for

In short, Jordan is bigger than life. Or as "international
designer" Bijan was recruited to say on SportsCenter, "E ees
beeger dan lahf."

By the end of last week, "bigger than life" was selling Jordan
short. To describe him in a single front-page story, USA Today
employed three "greats," five "greatests," one "greatness," two
"marvelouses," three "extraordinarys," one "unbelievable," one
"unmatched," two "awe-inspirings," two "staggerings" and one
"superstar." When that didn't quite make the point, the paper
called MJ a "great superstar" before hyperventilating into a
brown paper bag.

So it seemed woefully inadequate--almost heretical--when talking
heads suggested on SportsCenter that Jordan might now reasonably
aspire to the presidency or "to compete with Bill Gates" in the
business arena. The tenor of these arguments was correct: The
best player in the brief history of basketball should, if he so
desires, govern the world's only superpower or at least control
90% of the global software market. But why trifle with the most
powerful office on earth, or waste time as the planet's
wealthiest citizen, when you can already halt the rotation of the
earth on its axis? Given Magic Johnson's four-word assessment of
Jordan's career last week ("He stopped the world"), those would
be lateral moves at best, no?

Jordan has long denied his own divinity. He did so in Barcelona
in '92 and again last week, when he told reporters, with what now
passes for self-deprecation, "I can't save the world." His denial
had the ring of plausibility to it: He spoke not through a
burning bush, nor even through Ahmad Rashad, which raises some
sobering theological questions.

What if Jordan isn't Jesus Christ Superstar, but
mere...superstar? What if he is simply the world's best
basketball player, a solid citizen and prodigiously successful
salesman? What if there's a real God, occupying even Rarer Air
than Jordan, and He is serious about that whole graven image

Then we're all headed for a very warm place. And it ain't the Bob
Hope Chrysler Classic.

COLOR ILLUSTRATION: DAN PICASSO [Drawing of Michael Jordan with halo and wings]
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