(This story was published in 2001).
Dear Mr. Jordan:
After further review, we have decided that we no longer require your services as a player in the NBA.
We understand that this must be hard news for you to hear, but please understand that the circumstances surrounding this issue have changed dramatically in recent weeks.
When you were initially contacted back in January, the League was hurting badly. Of the stars that weren’t out for the season with injuries, we were left with squabbling teammates, top players being traded around like they were trading cards, and seemingly a star in every city trying their best to verbally assault fans.
At the time, it seemed like a good idea: bring back Michael - he’ll know what to do.
Yes, I know the League has done everything it possibly can to make your return a triumphant one. The League changed the handcheck rule so that you can now be called for even fewer fouls than you were previously; allowing zone defense was a stroke of genius, so that you don’t get shown up by these younger, faster guys; and the draft lottery was simply poetic.
But, things have changed since those trying months at the end of the regular season. Everything has changed.
Those squabbling teammates in Los Angeles: they’re in the NBA Finals on the verge of repeating. I never thought we’d see a dynasty team again after your Bulls teams. In March, that looked prophetic. In June, it’s already wrong.
Rivalries have even popped up in these playoffs, Mr. Jordan. This Sixers-Lakers series has already seen three hard-fought games. They’re mouthing off to each other, throwing some elbows and tossing each other across the paint. They hate each other. We couldn’t have scripted it any better. The Sixers will also have the Bucks to contend with for years to come. They’re both young teams with something to prove every time they match up. And in California, the Kings - yes, the Kings - have a nice one brewing with the Lakers.
But here’s the clincher, Michael, and this is why I am writing to you now.
The NBA has stars again.
After you left, the League searched everywhere for its next MJ. For a while, the League and NBC tried to pump Vince as the heir to his Airness. But, that can only go so far with a player in Toronto. What these playoffs have offered the League, though, is the opportunity to not just build the League around a star, but to build it around a freaking constellation.
The old guard got beat in these playoffs, MJ. Mourning’s Heat lost to the Charlotte Hornets. They got swept, Michael. Vince and the Raptors upset the Knicks. And, the icing on the cake: watching the Dallas Mavericks come back and send home early the fossils of the Utah Jazz. While I’ve been a Stockton and Malone fan since they started playing, it is good to finally see them go. The new NBA isn’t a place for them anymore.
And it’s not a place for you, Michael.
You have your place in the NBA. It’s in the Hall of Fame. It’s on ESPN Classic. It’s not on the court. Not anymore.
These new stars have put on a exhibition for us. Another thriller in Game 3 Sunday night showcased the best of the new breed. These guys are talented. They're fast, they can shoot, and they have heart. The NBA Finals this year have been showtime and bluecollar at the same time. We didn't even have that with you, Michael.
It’s time to hang up the Air Jordans and let history rest. It’s time to give these other guys their time on the Wheaties boxes.
Iverson. Bryant. T’Mac. KG. C’Webb. Vince. Shaq. This is the new NBA. No, there won’t be another MJ. But, the League doesn’t need another MJ anymore. It doesn’t need another white knight; it has a cavalry.
So go, enjoy your summer. Don't fret about losing weight and bulking up. Be the best player in the history of the game that you are: make appearances, educate yourself on how to run a team, golf. Do what is best for yourself and for the League: just be MJ.
Again, Michael, we’re sorry this all happened. Not in anyone’s wildest dreams did we expect what has happened over the last two months.
All our best,
P.S. Please also let Charles know that we like him behind the booth, so there won’t be any need for his services, either. Thanks.