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What you need to know about COVID-19: August 6, 2020
These aren’t fun times for sports fans. Perhaps looking back to one of the top pump-your-fist, yell-out-loud moments and celebrate periods of the past three decades might help.
Despite the worldwide popularity of Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, basketball was an afterthought in Canada in the early 1990s. Sure, you could watch triple-headers on NBC on Sunday and maybe get a few minutes of highlights a night on a few channels, but it was nothing like today. Few households had the internet or even knew what it was and the Toronto Raptors and Vancouver Grizzlies were on the way — but not yet members of the NBA.
Despite all that, when Jordan sent a fax on March 18, 1995, saying: “I’m back,” there were still thousands of ecstatic Canadians eager to receive the news.
This corner included. Everyone has a favourite athlete and Jordan was easily mine.
Years before he returned, Jordan was the reason I fell in love with and started watching and playing basketball. The spark that inexplicably led to a career chiefly covering professional hoops.
You see, I was devastated when Jordan, the most spectacular and dominant athlete on the planet walked away from the game on Oct. 6, 1993 (the Blue Jays would win a second straight playoff game against the White Sox that night, making it a particularly tough day for supporters of Chicago sports), citing various reasons, including the murder of his father.
The words he spoke that day were seared into my brain as I snuck my walkman (it was a long time ago) into history class and got caught trying to listen. Getting kicked out, while unplanned, happily allowed me to hear the rest of the news conference.
“I’ve always stressed to people that when I lose the sense of motivation, it’s time for me to move on. I’ve reached the pinnacle and I’ve achieved a lot in a short period. I don’t have anything else to prove,” Jordan said then.
“Everyone wants to know if my father’s death has anything to do with this. Well, I was kind of leaning in this direction before, and he knew this. So it didn’t alter my decision, but in some ways it made it simpler. What my father’s death made me realize is how short life is, and how it can be taken from you in a minute.”
While it was fair to hold out some hope, it sure sounded like Jordan was done.
When he eventually took up baseball, it seemed like he’d found a replacement and that was that.
Except it wasn’t. Which is why “I’m back” thrilled so many of us.
When he had quit, Jordan had finally broken through as a winner and not just one of the greatest singular talents of all-time. He’d led the Bulls to three titles in a row, the NBA’s first three-peat since the 1960s. He had won seven scoring titles in a row and wasn’t even 30 yet. It had a Jim Brown feel for those a generation older.
There was always the dream that Air Jordan would soar again. But we’d gone so long thinking that was just a fantasy that even whispers about legendary pickup games during his baseball sojourn just felt like faint hope.
But then Jordan shut down his dreams of playing Major League Baseball on March 10, in large part because he didn’t want to be a replacement player (the MLB strike ended later that month). Momentum built that he would save the mediocre Bulls and a league that had dipped significantly in popularity without its top player and salesman.
Not even a full day after his fax, Jordan was in the lineup, sporting a new number (45, the same digits he wore as a White Sox minor leaguer). Sure, he looked as rusty as an old locomotive, missing 21-of-28 shot attempts and the Bulls fell in overtime to Indiana, but nobody cared.
It isn’t often that a living legend returns to the summit after missing 1.5 years of action. Jordan had 27 points at Boston in Game 2, nailed the game-winner and scored 32 against Atlanta soon after. He didn’t need a piece of paper to declare he was truly back when, three days following the Hawks winm he dropped 55 on the Knicks at Madison Square Garden, the most points by anyone in Gotham since 1965.
Jordan and the once-middling Bulls looked great down the stretch, but were upset in Round 2 of the post-season by Shaquille O’Neal, Penny Hardaway and the Orlando Magic.
The loss fueled Jordan and spurred on a second Bulls three-peat.
And it all started with a couple of words that were short and to the point.
A day is going to come — hopefully sooner rather than later — that everybody’s favourite athlete and teams return to action.
That glorious March day a quarter of a century ago gives me some idea of just how sweet it will feel.
ALL FACILITIES TO BE CLOSED
Any NBA facilities that are still open are about to be shuttered.
The NBA said its teams must close their practice and training facilities to players and staff until further notice starting on Friday, according to reports.
The Toronto Raptors are still under a 14-day quarantine so weren’t in their facilities anyway. Players like Serge Ibaka have posted clips of their in-home workouts on social media.
The NBA has encouraged players to stay in their home market and stay at home unless they need to visit grocery stores or pharmacies.
The season was suspended indefinitely on March 11. Commissioner Adam Silver went on ESPN on Wednesday saying he’s “optimistic” that some part of the season will be salvaged.
“They’re going stir crazy, they want to play, they want to compete. Players, as you know, I mean, unlike a lot of us in our positions we can just go back to what we were doing, but every player is fighting something that’s unwinnable, and that’s the aging process,” Silver told ESPN.
“So a lost year or lost portion of a season in their careers is very different from other people, so we’re gonna try by every means we can to play basketball again, but I say that the safety and health of our players is first, and our fans, which is why I don’t want to speculate more on that.”
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020