“I wanna be like Mike.”
Those five words were the mantra of the millions of basketball fans who practiced the moves, dunks and flying ability of one of the world’s most recognizable and talented athletes – Michael Jordan. Jordan’s announcement Wednesday that he is retiring from basketball brings an end to the era of Air Jordan. He was one of the greatest players ever to walk on to a court. But Jordan was a role model off the court as well in a time when role models have been hard to come by.
Jordan is recognized by people all around the world. Basketball fans, regardless of their age and ability, try to replicate Jordan’s gravity-defying moves. His No. 23 is found on every continent, if not in every country in the world. Jordan’s athletic skills are supplemented by his marketing prowess. He has endorsed everything from Nike sneakers and Gatorade to underwear and Wheaties. With Jordan as the product’s personification, everything he endorses is marketing gold.
What makes Jordan different from other high-profile athlete-celebrities is his strong work ethic and discipline. He never attempted to choke his coach; he never threw bleach or firecrackers at fans or reporters; he never colored his hair. Jordan was one of the hardest working athletes of all time, molding himself into a superior player through sheer effort and will to succeed – an example from which we all could learn.
Jordan is the athletic icon of our time, just as Muhammad Ali or Jackie Robinson were for previous generations. He received millions of dollars in salary and endorsements, and he was worth every penny. After the long NBA lockout, Jordan could have restored prestige to a league whose fans might have given up on the season altogether. He cannot be replaced. Jordan was one of the rare athletes who transcended sports to become a cultural figure; we were fortunate to witness his career.