By Ryan Divish/Sports Editor
Ask yourself this question: "Five years from now, what will be your lasting memory of Michael Jordan?"
Will it be Michael draining the jumpshot from the wing with seven seconds remaining to give North Carolina the 1982 NCAA tournament title?
Will it be Michael flying through the air en route, seemingly defying gravity in one of his hundreds of dunks?
Will it be Michael coming through the darkness at old Chicago Stadium as announcer Ray Clay screamed, "From North Carolina, 6-6, Miiiicccchhhaaaeellll Joooorrrdaannnnnnnn"?
Will it be Michael hitting that double-clutch 16-foot jumpshot over Craig Ehlo at the buzzer to lead the Bulls past the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 1988-89 playoffs?
Will it be Michael clutching the NBA Championship trophy, tears streaming down his face, following his first NBA title?
Will it be Michael turning to the Bulls' bench in the 1991-92 championship and shrugging his shoulders in disbelief after dropping his seventh three-pointer in the first half of a game?
Will it be Michael dropping 55 points on the Knicks in Madison Square Garden four games into his first comeback while wearing the number 45?
Will it be Michael slumped over on the bench completely exhausted after scoring 38 points despite a nasty stomach virus in game five of the 1996-97 NBA championship?
Will it be Michael holding the pose of a game-winning jumpshot over Utah's Bryon Russell at the buzzer to clinch the 1996-97 title?
Or, will it be Michael in a baseball uniform blindly flailing at pitches in the dirt en route to a .200 average for the Class AA Birmingham Barons?
Will it be Michael in a Washington Wizards uniform hobbling on creaky knees firing up jumpshot after jumpshot?
Will it be Michael on the Wizards bench with icebags strapped to every aching limb in his body?
Will it be Michael missing a pair of dunks in the last two all-star games?
Will it be Michael chastising his youthful Wizard teammates for their lack of heart and desire?
Will it be Michael draining a pair of free throws, his final points of his career, in a 107-87 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers?
Will you remember the good times or the bad? The victories or the defeats? The superman-like leaps or the human-like stumbles? The shots made or the shots missed?
It's all relative to the person. Unfortunately, sportswriters are a cynical bunch and many of them will choose to remember the bad instead of the good.
If you recall when Michael decided to come back and play for the Wizards, it was sportswriters who cried foul. Every bozo with a laptop and a column in the sports section wrote that Jordan was tarnishing his place in the game by coming back. Instead of remembering him as a basketball god with the Bulls, they believed we would remember him as just another basketball player for the Wizards.
But we've established that sportswriters don't know everything. In fact, when it comes to athletic competition most know very little. Sure, they can watch a thousand athletic competitions and write 10,000 stories analyzing and regurgitating what they saw. But very few, if any, know what it truly means to compete at the highest level in any sort of athletics.
If they did, then they would understand why Michael decided to come back this last time.
As you grow older, the competitive fires inside a person slowly begin to flicker and dim. Why? For the average human being, it's because the opportunities to compete aren't as prevalent. There are fewer and fewer organized sports, especially team sports, for people to compete in.
And the ones that are left aren't the same. Nobody wants to be the guy in slowpitch softball who takes things just a little too seriously. Those sports aren't supposed to be ultra-competitive.
And for the ultimate competitor, having those competitive fires grow even a little dimmer was unbearable.
Michael loved playing the game of basketball and, even more, he loved competing. He tried to quench that love by playing baseball, golfing and even being a general manager. It wasn't even close to the same. He didn't want to compete, he needed to.
He had the opportunity to come back and play and he took it.
Who are we to criticize him? Most people who still hunger for competition would love to be like Michael and go back for one last taste.
For most people, the ability to go back and live their athletic dream remains exactly that, a dream. But for Michael, it wasn't. He wanted to play again and he did. He wasn't the same as he was 10 years ago. Nobody is. Michael never claimed he would be. And he shouldn't have to apologize for it. He was out there to compete and that's what he was doing.
Perhaps that is what I will remember most about Michael. It's that look on his face after the game begins. The look of a total intensity that says "I will do anything and everything to beat you." The look that says "I will never stop competing no matter what the score is, my age is or how bad my body hurts."
Yep, five years from now when someone talks about Michael, I won't think of dunks or missed dunks, jumpshots or strikeouts, Bulls or Wizards. I will remember that look. The look of the ultimate competitor doing what he does best, competing.
I won't even remember which uniform he was wearing.