Who will be the next Michael Jordan?

By Nancy Armour Associated Press Published:

CHICAGO - Every few years, some new kid with a sweet shot, engaging personality and thousand-watt smile comes along and is immediately dubbed "The next Michael Jordan." But the pretenders fall as quickly as they rise, and the void remains unfilled. "You're right, there's not going to be another Michael Jordan," the original said Wednesday as he announced his retirement for a second time. "And I wouldn't want those guys to try to be that." Good thing, too, because they'd fail. Harold Miner. Penny Hardaway. Grant Hill. Jerry Stackhouse. Kobe Bryant. For one reason or another, they've all fallen short of being like Mike. "There will never be another Michael Jordan, just like there will never be another Larry Bird or another Magic Johnson," Atlanta Hawks general manager Pete Babcock said. "But there will be someone different and unique who will capture everyone's imagination." But who? The NBA's current crop of young stars doesn't exactly inspire the oohs and ahs Jordan did every time he took the floor. Hardaway's alter ego is more endearing than the real thing, who got his coach fired and then took almost the whole season off. Hill's a nice guy, but his team didn't even make the playoffs last season. Bryant comes the closest, but he needs to lose the me-first attitude and start mixing up his game. Then there's Allen Iverson, who has the dazzling moves but a rap sheet to go along with them. "There was never going to be another Dr. J., and I knew that," Jordan said. "There was never going to be another Elgin Baylor, I knew that. So the kids of tomorrow, there's never going to be another Michael Jordan. "You can be a Grant Hill, you can be an Anfernee Hardaway, you can be a Kobe Bryant, but Michael Jordan is Michael Jordan," he said. "You might take bits and pieces of his game or his personality and somehow correlate them to yours, but either way, you have to develop into the person that you are." For anyone who has forgotten, Jordan wasn't Jordan right away, either. When he arrived in the NBA in 1984, he was a brash, skinny kid from North Carolina who still had hair. He didn't have a complete game, and some players called him a ball hog. But Jordan had something that set him apart _ a competitive fire that drove him to become the greatest player and refused to let him lose. He developed a deadly jump shot, and learned to make the most of his teammates' talents. Eventually, his mental ability surpassed his physical skills. Out of this came six NBA championships, 10 scoring titles and five MVP awards. "He got a lot of people who were not fans watching the game," said Dolph Schayes, voted one of the NBA's 50 greatest players. "There's nobody on the horizon to take his place, not Grant Hill and not Kobe Bryant. He's the player of the century." Jordan's magic was that he transcended basketball. Sure, he was unparalleled on the court with his high-flying dunks, no-look passes and seemingly impossible shots that turned sport into art. But it was his off-the-court persona that earned him millions and made the NBA the hippest sports league in the country. It didn't matter that he was worth more than many small countries or that his intense drive could turn him into a curmudgeon. Fans called him by his first name like he was their best friend, golfing buddy or next-door neighbor. One smile, and he could sell anything, win over anyone. "No one ever tried to invent Michael Jordan," said his agent, David Falk. "We didn't try to create something in 1984, it just evolved. When you try to create that, the public sees through it and they think it's insincere." That doesn't mean people aren't itching to try and fill Jordan's shoes. And now that he's gone, the scramble is really going to be on. "It's going to be fun to see another guy try to step up and be compared to him and to see if they can last," Cleveland Cavaliers forward Shawn Kemp said. "Because the two guys they have said were going to be Michael Jordan _ Kobe and Harold Miner _ I think they kind of believed it, and it wears you down a little bit." But Jordan knows better than anyone that somewhere, sometime, a player will come along who'll be worthy of being called his successor. It happened after Bill Russell. It happened after Baylor. It happened after Johnson and Bird. Until then, he has some advice for the players he leaves behind. "The love of the game is what you do on the basketball court," he said. "No matter what happens in the business of basketball, if you didn't get paid a dime, you still would play the game of basketball somewhere. "And that love has to be illustrated in the way that you play the game and the way that you carry yourself on and off the court."

Want to leave your comments?

Sign in or Register to comment.