In 1993, something unprecedented occurred in the world of professional sports. The greatest athlete of any sport decided, suddenly, that he wanted to retire from professional basketball. The only other equal comparison I can think of would be if the Progressive Insurance lady suddenly retired her position as the undisputed, most annoying television personality to pursue a career in social work.
On October 6, 1993, weeks before the start of the new season, Michael Jordan officially announced his retirement from the NBA. Despite the public outcry from the media, NBA fans, coach Phil Jackson, and most importantly, commissioner David Stern’s wallet, Jordan remained firm and steadfast in his decision. His motives, however flawed they have been, were clear; To pursue a career in professional baseball. If you were alive in 1993, you probably remember a thundering, simultaneous “what the hell!” chant echoing across the world upon the announcement.
The North Carolina college star said that his desire for the game had worn out. Apparently, after winning three consecutive championships, Jordan no longer cared to dominate and embarrass opposing players. In other words, the thrill was gone. Although Jordan cited a number of other varying reasons as to why he would give it all up, the driving impetus behind his decision was the murder of his father in July of that year, James Jordan Sr. While driving home in familiar North Carolina grounds, Jordan Sr decided to take a pit stop on the side of the road in order to rest. According to police reports, he was robbed and murdered by Daniel Green and Larry Martin Demery. A popular claim is that the men were collecting on gambling debts that Michael owed. Michael was a notorious partaker in the casino life, but with these types of conspiracy-centered claims, one must take them with a grain of salt, or if you go so far as to actually believe it, a heavy dose of battery acid is the preferred method.
Jordan told befuddled reporters that his childhood dream was to play in the MLB, and his father was a main proponent of this dream. It is tempting to engage in idol worship, especially in sports, and even more so in the case of a man who can dunk from the free-throw line and make half court shots with ease. However, family tragedy swiftly brought Jordan back to the harsh realities of everyday life. In 1994, Ira Berkow, esteemed New York Times columnist, crafted a seminal piece investigating Jordan’s psychological frame upon “the announcement,” entitled “A Humbled Jordan Learns New Truths.” The article expertly places Jordan, a man with superhuman abilities, in the mold of human, complete with all the emotions and frailties that come packaged with mortality.
The loss of his father and biggest fan caused Jordan a whirlwind of emotions and heavy contemplation. He attempted to carry out his obligations while keeping in spiritual contact with his father. According to Jordan: “I talk to him more in the subconscious than actual words. ‘Keep doing what you’re doing,’ he’d tell me,’Keep trying to make it happen. You can’t be afraid to fail. Don’t give a damn about the media.’ Then he’d say something funny — or recall something about when I was a boy, when we’d be in the backyard playing catch together like we did all the time. It takes your mind away from what’s happening. Lifts the load a little bit.”
When Jordan announced that he had signed a minor league deal with the Chicago White Sox, droves of outrage from the media poured in. Critics claimed, rightly so, that professional baseball players became professionals through a lifetime of sacrifice and practice. They added that Jordan was insulting America’s Game by believing he could seriously compete. Famously, Sports Illustrated published a scathing article attacking Jordan and his pursuit. In a few short weeks, Jordan had descended from sports divinity to sports derision.
Popular sports legend is that Michael Jordan was a complete Ryan Jamarcus Russell Leaf in his baseball career. This claim is erroneous. Jordan’s initial stint in the baseball leagues was pretty pathetic, admittedly, but due to his world-class work ethic, he made giant strides in a very short time. Playing for the minor league team, the Birmingham Barons, Jordan struggled immensely to grasp the meticulous mechanics of baseball. His ability to sift through defenders, had no basis in the arena he was now aspiring to. In the acclaimed ESPN documentary series, 30 for 30, an episode centered around Jordan entitled Jordan Rides The Bus does a brilliant job of capturing Jordan’s struggles as a baseball player. Towards the end of his baseball stint, many analysts were under the impression that Jordan could have become a major league player if he continued to develop at the speed he was displaying. To put that in perspective, when Jordan announced his baseball aspirations, he had not seriously engaged in the sport since high school.
Aside from a basic knowledge of basketball, I didn’t grasp Jordan’s excellence at the age of four. Although my father was a huge sports fan, and accounted for 99% of my acquisition of later love for sports, my mother was the main reason I started watching Bulls games in the first place. Once, during a routine car ride to school, I asked my mom why this Michael Jordan character, and his subsequent retirement was such a big deal. This of course was during those dark days of history when ipads did not exist, so basic adolescent knowledge had to be acquired through actual social interactions with parents. My mom’s knowledge of sports is not the greatest, but her assumption of Michael Jordan’s athletic prowess, while simple, was completely accurate.
“He’s just good at everything. Shooting, rebounding, defense. He just does it all.”
He just does it all. Combining this basic philosophy with their famous slogan of just do it, Nike attempted to counteract the financial hit they would potentially (who am I kidding? absolutely) receive from Michael Jordan not being around to sell his legendary basketball sneakers. According to credible sources I obtained through the internet, Nike was expected lose an approximate 100 gazillion dollars from Jordan’s retirement. Obviously, in order to keep their company lucrative and their malnourished sweat job workers oppressed, the company had to devise a brilliant marketing strategy to keep kids paying for highly overpriced sneakers.
Which is exactly what they did.
Like a phoenix out of the ashes of Jordan’s retirement, Johnny Kilroy was born. In commercials narrated by the got-damn-you-for-being-so-funny Steve Martin, a fabricated investigation is posed as to whether Jordan actually retired, or whether he was still playing basketball under an assumed alliance. We are presented with flashing images of Michael Jordan donning a number of different uniforms and hairstyles, attempting to hide his true identity. Throughout the commercial, an insatiable Martin appears on the Regis and Kathy Lee show, interviews celebrities like Chris Mullins and Michael Irvin, in order to find out the truth about Michael Jordan’s retirement. A mysterious audiotape features Jordan stating: “Yeah, I faked my retirement, so what?” Even Phil Jackson makes a brief appearance, dubiously stating that he “doesn’t want to talk about Kilroy” to a sea of reporters.
Things really pick up steam when Martin introduces the infamous “popcorn tape,” which is a digital recording of a Bulls-Hornets game in which a mysterious player scores 79 points in only one quarter of play. (To my knowledge, neither Lebron James nor his alliances (Crybaby Williams, Powdered-Hands Malone, I’m-Taking-My-Bitch-Assness-To-South-Beach Douglas) have yet to score 79 points in one quarter). Hall-of-Fame center Alonzo Mourning proceeds to tell us that the acrobatic moves displayed by this Kilroy player could only be exhibited by the one and only Michael Jordan. Martin concludes the investigation with a firm conclusion: “Michael Jordan, the greatest basketball player of all time, is letting nothing stand in the way of what he loves to do. And that’s just play basketball.”
The commercials worked exceptionally well, allowing the Air Jordan 9s to become one of the most popular and beloved sneakers in the entire line. Nike didn’t need to rely on clever marketing for too long forever, because Jordan decided in 1995 to return to the sport (and David Stern’s wallet) that so desperately missed him.
The events leading up to Jordan’s comeback, and the subsequent results, lead to three more championship rings for his resume, but most importantly, acted as the creative impetus behind the film Space Jam. The only way to judge whether a late 80s/early 90s baby has any smidgen of credibility in this world is not based on their life experience, intellectual prowess, or grade point average. Rather, it is if they were around to witness this tantamount moment in cinematic history. If you haven’t seen Space Jam, there are two remedies I can prescribe: 1) Watch.it.now! You got Netflix right? And 2) Take a knife, sharpen it, and…
Until recently when I discovered Space Jam’s rating on Rotten Tomatoes, I naturally assumed (given that the film is pure brilliance) that all film critics worldwide welcomed the movie with open arms. I figured that, temporarily, Roger Ebert engaged in experimental plastic surgery, allowing doctors to sow on an extra thumb so that he could properly rate the film. However, I was wrong. But critics can’t be trusted. There are some people in this world who believe Shawshank Redemption is more belonging to the classic American film cannon than Good Burger.
I know right? Ridiculous.
The brilliant plot (which I will not recount in entirety, because like I said, if you are a good, moral person, you have seen the film at least 3,000 times) of Space Jam closely mirrors the events of Jordan’s baseball years and his return to basketball, aside from a few differences. The Looney Tunes gang, as far as I know, was not instrumental in bringing Jordan back to the game, nor did the Tunesquad, Mister Swackhammer, or the Nerdlucks actually exist. However, the orange alien that played Charles Barkley could very well act as a twin in physical appearance, and hopefully scientists are currently attempting to track the family lineage of the two for proof of relation. Once Nerdlucks return Jordan back to Earth, Jordan eventually comes to his senses, and returns to the NBA.
The credibility of the events of Space Jam have never been seriously investigated, but I’m sure that Bugs Bunny was not the only reason for Jordan’s comeback. In true Jordan swag, his announcement said nothing of returning his talents back to Chicago or foolishly dancing on stage or some shit, but rather two words: “I’m back.” Apparently, Jordan learned a few public relations tips from Bugs Bunny during his sojourn through space. Jordan went on to win three back-to-back-to-back championships for the Chicago Bulls, ending his career (temporarily) on a buzzer beater against the Utah Jazz in the 1998 finals. Let us not talk about Jordan’s second, somewhat disastrous comeback for the Washington Wizards a few years later.
Although Johnny Kilroy is no more, in the months of October and November, Nike is celebrating Johnny Kilroy’s legacy by re-releasing the coveted Air Jordan 9 sneaker, in a myriad of new colorways. All of Jordan’s alliances (Motorboat Jones, Fontay Montana, Bentley Ellis, Calvin Bailey) and their respective colorways will be released. Despite risking my health in the process, I managed to acquire a pair of the Johnny Kilroys, which come complete with a “Kilroy Kicks Butt” sign attached inside the sole. The Kilroys feature the number 4 stitched on the back, which is the number that the fictional character wore in the commercials. For normal people, I’m sure this article will be of no use to you. But for the sneakerhead, it is valuable to have a bit of a history behind the shoes. Personally, it aides in my misguided efforts to rationalize spending $175 on a pair of shoes that I will rarely wear.