Rarefied Air: Michael Jordan turns 50

Posted at 02/17/2013 11:30 AM | Updated as of 02/17/2013 11:30 AM

At age 50, he looks like he might still have just enough to win a few games. That’s what Michael Jeffrey Jordan’s effect is as he enters his fifth decade of existence on Sunday, February 17.

The man who most would argue is the true G.O.A.T., the Greatest of all Time, hasn’t played in a true NBA game since walking off the court on April 16, 2003 in a loss of his Washington Wizards to the Philadelphia 76ers.

So great was MJ in his prime that recent scuttlebutt has insinuated that, should he choose to don his Jordan Brand sneakers for any NBA team today, he could still work his magic.

Today, Michael Jordan is a majority owner of the Charlotte Bobcats, the first former NBA player to become majority owner of a league franchise. Though the Bobcats have generally underachieved and his draft picks have been less than stellar, Jordan still enjoys almost universal love worldwide for his accomplishments on the hardwood, especially his six titles with the Chicago Bulls.

Those accomplishments, as well as the brilliant sports marketing done around Jordan by Nike president Phil Knight and advertising geniuses Wieden + Kennedy, have kept Jordan and his signature kicks in the spotlight, still starting long queues locally for releases of his retro kicks from Bonifacio Global City to Greenhills, Alabang to Katipunan, and every Nike outlet in between.

Gold standard

We still measure every star of today against him. Though the Los Angeles Lakers are struggling, we still look at Kobe Bryant and his five championship rings, waiting for “the Black Mamba” to go for his sixth ring in hopes of tying Jordan.

Meanwhile, LeBron James finally won his first title in 2012, and basketball lovers immediately demanded that “King James” deliver five more rings to equal His Airness.

In fact, in recent discussions about the NBA, Jordan’s name eventually came up a few times. Would Jordan call out his teammates (as Bryant did to Dwight Howard) while the Lakers self-destruct? Could Jordan score in the 30s nightly while shooting a high percentage like James recently did for the Heat? If Jordan was surrounded by the mishmash of talents around Carmelo Anthony in New York, would MJ be able to carry the Knicks into the Finals?

When James and Chris Bosh joined Dwyane Wade in Miami, people argued whether Jordan would have joined Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Charles Barkley or any of his rivals in hopes of snagging a title.

In Jordan’s old home of Chicago, the loss of Derrick Rose to an ACL injury brought back memories of MJ’s second NBA season, where he was lost for most of the season due to his own knee injury, then proceeded to drop 63 points against the Celtics in a first round playoff matchup.

Marketing marvel

Nike, which rode Jordan’s brilliance to become the inter-sports powerhouse it is today, has also spent considerable coin in searching for and owning “the next Michael Jordan.” From Vince Carter and Harold Miner, to the current trio of Bryant, James and Kevin Durant, to those who actually wear Jordan’s Jumpman logo on their feet in Anthony and Chris Paul, Phil Knight has spared no expense in trying to duplicate the “lightning in the bottle” effect that Jordan delivered in the '80s and '90s.

Even Nike competitors like adidas have made their own bid to copy the Jordan marketing formula, as reflected a few years ago in Tracy McGrady and Kevin Garnett. Nowadays, however, the three stripes are more focused on pushing Rose and Howard, with varying degrees of success.

There’s even been a “what if?” story that’s been posted online that wonders what would have happened had Michael gotten his wish and signed with adidas, NOT Nike, when he came out of the University of North Carolina.

Always the salesman

Clearly, the fascination with Michael Jordan remains high, almost a decade after his third and final retirement from basketball. Credit the internet, specifically YouTube, for endless hours of highlight reels of Jordan flying through the air and jamming the ball down fearsome Georgetown centers, or leaning backward before draining a trademark fadeaway jumper over Knick, Cavalier and Jazz defenders.

Add the tales of journalists and ballers who watched Jordan take flight, and it’s easy to see why his shadow still looms large over the basketball world.

Yet it is really has been some time since Jordan was a staple on TV and magazine covers weekly. Sports Illustrated recently featured Jordan on their cover once more, in flight at the 1988 Slam Dunk Contest versus Dominique Wilkins, with a big “50” behind him. Even at 50, Jordan can still sell, whether it be magazines or basketball shoes.

If there’s anything that Michael has turned out to be not so good at, it’s actually being an NBA owner.

His Bobcats delivered a .106 winning percentage in the lockout-shortened 2011-2012 season, the worst winning percentage in NBA history. Jordan, the man most credit as opening the floodgates for multi-million dollar player contracts, supposedly stood strong with his fellow owners during the lockout, refusing to budge until the players backed down from their own monetary demands.

23 forever

It is thus a tribute to Jordan’s athletic superiority that, despite all of the Bobcats’ woes, he remains a popular figure in most eyes. Go down any eskinita or alley in the Philippines, and you’re still more likely to see a “Bulls 23” jersey than any of these new stars who’ve followed his footsteps. Ask any of the current crop of PBA players and they’re likely to tell you that they too grew up acting out their own Jordan scenarios in the playgrounds.

So cheers, Michael, and happy 50th birthday. You warned us during your entry to the Basketball Hall of Fame that your playing days might not be as over as we thought. Indeed, if anyone could lace up his kicks and dominate the Association at 50 years young, we couldn’t envision anyone doing it but you.

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.