Michael Jordan uncomfortable with finality that Hall of Fame induction brings

Newly elected Basketball Hall of Famers (from left): C. Vivian Stringer, John Stockton, David Robinson and Michael Jordan.
Newly elected Basketball Hall of Famers (from left): C. Vivian Stringer, John Stockton, David Robinson and Michael Jordan.
Posted: April 07, 2009

DETROIT - It was Tom Jernstedt, an NCAA vice president, who first made the suggestion at the Basketball Hall of Fame press conference yesterday that, if the national championship game between Michigan State and North Carolina were to go to overtime, famous alums Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan should just decide it with a game of one-on-one. Then CBS' Jim Nantz, the day's emcee, repeated it.

At which point, Jordan said, "You really think he can beat me? He never beat me in a final at all."

He is a fascinating character, the most obvious of first-ballot selectees, joining C. Vivian Stringer, Jerry Sloan, John Stockton and David Robinson in the Class of 2009. They will be inducted Sept. 10-12 in Springfield, Mass.

Jordan was known for greatness but almost more for being, as he said, "a compulsive competitive guy." So there was a wistfulness at the ceremony as he spoke about the finality of the honor.

"This is not fun for me," Jordan said. "I don't like being up here for the Hall of Fame because at that time your basketball career is completely over, the way I look at it. I was hoping this day would be 20 more years, or actually go in when I'm dead and gone.

"Because now, all along . . . you always [could] put shorts on and go out and play. Now, when you get into the Hall of Fame, what else is there to do? This is kind of a love-hate thing for me - great accomplishment, great respect that everybody's paying, but for me, I always want to be able to have you thinking that I can always go back and play the game of basketball, put my shorts on. As long as you have that thought, you never know what can happen . . .

"Am I? No. But I'd like for you to think that way. Hall of Fame, to me, is like, 'OK, it's over and done with, it's pretty much done, you can't ever put a uniform back on.' It's totally the end of your basketball career. But it's a great accomplishment. I don't walk away from it. But I never envisioned myself really wanting to be up here so quickly. I wanted it to be when I'm 70 years old, 80 years old. I'm 45 and I still think I can play. You guys don't know if I can or can't but at least I've got you thinking that way."

When he spoke about influences on his career, former North Carolina coach Dean Smith was the first name Jordan brought up. When talking about the game today, he said he is just beginning to get comfortable with being a spectator.

"I live vicariously through today's athletes," Jordan said. "I'm just starting to get closer to the game, where I can get down and watch it without having the appetite to compete, to be critical about it so much. But for someone like me, it's tough. It's tough to be around competitive situations . . . but I've been able to manage. I've been able to survive."

His main outlet, he said, is golf - that and watching his sons play. His youngest's high school team just won the Illinois state championship.

"It was truly a pleasure to watch and understand what parents go through with their kids," he said. "I was telling some of the guys today that my son is coming back to me and saying, 'Dad, I did something that you never did. You never won the state championship,' which is true. My reply to him was, 'Everybody who wins the state championship doesn't always win after. If you want to accept that and just maintain that, then go ahead. But there's a lot of other championships out there.' "

Stringer in the Hall

Vivian Stringer is the first coach, male or female, to have led three teams to the Final Four - Cheyney State, Iowa and Rutgers. She is third on the all-time coaching list with 825 wins, and is already a member of the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame.

"I still can't put it into words," she said. "It's something where you think about it too long, you think you're going to pass out."

She talked about visiting the Hall of Fame years ago, and about joining "the ghosts and angels of the game." She talked about getting to the Final Four with Cheyney State in 1982 "when our budget was about $300." She returned again and again to the same theme: "It's never been about me. It's always been about the players."

And, through a Temple spokesman, her male counterpart from the Cheyney State days got the last word: "I am very happy and elated that she was selected to the Hall of Fame this year. I would think not many, if any, Division II school has its former men's and women's coaches in the Hall of Fame. She certainly has all the qualifications and is one of the great basketball coaches of all-time." *