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© St. Petersburg Times, published May 5, 2002
In the humanity league, Michael Jordan could accomplish much more, with personal identity/magnetism/wealth that leaps beyond athletics, giving His Airness extraordinary worldly smash with some of the more imposing decisionmakers in business, entertainment and politics.
Years ago, I wrote a similar opinion as No. 23, the most prodigious force in basketball, was floating through the celebrity heavens, while triggering six NBA championships for the Chicago Bulls.
With a deft touch and cozy smile, Jordan continues to sell us everything from sneakers to underwear to cologne, earning $75-million a year. So recognizable in Tokyo and Paris as well as New York and Los Angeles.
But is Jordan any closer, at age 39, as his career ebbs with the Washington Wizards, to buying into a colossal, humane, do-good legacy that still could be shaped?
Arthur Ashe, a tennis hero who conquered Wimbledon and the U.S. and Australian Opens, used far less jock clout to create far more as a human being. He was remarkable, approachable and demanding. In a 1993 autobiography, Days of Grace, the lithe Virginian, already doomed by disease, whacked Jordan with a bruising backhand.
"I admire those athletes and entertainers who consciously try to give something back to people, if only by exemplary behavior," Ashe's book said. "I am less happy with the demureness of Michael Jordan, who is as popular as he is rich."
Has anything significantly changed in eight years since, as the Jordan portfolio escalated, according to the Washington Post, to $400-million? Not so we outsiders can tell.
Tiger Woods does so much more.
Muhammad Ali's impact is unquestioned.
Magic Johnson, his NBA career blunted and life threatened by HIV, has made fabulous post-hoops strides, creating impressive commerce that works overtime to brighten Harlem, South-Central and other urban neighborhoods of extreme need.
Where are you, Michael?
There can be unfairness if we shout that the megamillionaires of sport or entertainment should invest loads of their time and money to do more for humankind. Do we not tend to more often bellow at icons of color?
Not that the Shaq O'Neals, Barry Bondses, Warren Sapps and Venus/Serena Williamses should not be prodded but such demands also should be amply spread among Larry Bird, Wayne Gretzky, John Elway, Pete Sampras, Annika Sorenstam, Jennifer Capriati, Phil Mickelson, Randy Johnson, Jack Nicklaus and others who are white.
We all should re-examine.
You first, M.J.
BUCKETS: You may wish to debate, but I think the nicest people in professional golf are Nancy Lopez and Nick Price. ... Let's ease off baseball's Bud Selig with Gary Bettman of the NHL having become "least courageous" among commissioners, refusing to adequately hammer a sickening array of playoff thugs. ... Augusta National Golf Club is eternally secretive, never saying how many spectators the Masters tournament draws or how much money is generated or how many green-jacketed members there are, but it is clear a woman never has been welcomed into the brotherhood. But now, one of the club's flock, Lloyd Ward of the U.S. Olympic Committee, is talking about female membership. ... If it happens, how about Lopez? ... Chances are, the Charlotte Hornets will relocate to New Orleans, which seems a lousy idea with the Big Easy's shortage of population, corporate strength and overall demographics. ... Since baseball lists a "blown saves" category, how about the NFL doing the appropriate thing and adding "dropped passes" to stats? ... In that vein, while Jon Gruden needs better offensive line huskies, I think the new Bucs coach's upgrading of pass receivers has been superb, ridding Keyshawn Johnson of squatty, underachieving partners.
GNAWINGS: Has anyone advised Mike Tyson, re his Memphis ring scam with Lennox Lewis, that Tennessee requires all convicted sex offenders to register? ... Tracy McGrady, a college skipper, is NBA rich but never learned the meaning of "humility." ... I've been wrong before, but today's opinion is that Drew Bledsoe is still a better quarterback than Tom Brady. ... Quarterbacks have been the first overall pick in 23 NFL drafts and just two have led their original franchises to Super Bowl championships: Terry Bradshaw and Troy Aikman. ... Again, you may argue, but I think the top fight songs, in order, belong to Michigan, Notre Dame, Southern California and Wisconsin. ... Scottie Pippen, in his concluding 90 postseason seconds, did everything wrong but wreck Portland's team bus. ... So sad, in these entangled times, that World Cup preparations in Korea and Japan are dominated not by global soccer chatter but regarding the depth, expense and complexities of anti-terrorism ploys.
Whatever happened to Rodney Marsh?
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