Jordan leaves the game he redefined



DEERFIELD, Ill. (AP)—With no tears, just that trademark twinkle in his eyes, Michael Jordan retired Wednesday from the game he redefined, saying he wanted to quit at the top but hinting that basketball hasn’t seen the last of its greatest player.

‘‘I’ve reached the pinnacle of my career,’‘ Jordan said in an announcement that shocked fans and teammates alike. ‘‘I just feel that I don’t have anything else for myself to prove.’‘

At a news conference packed with hundreds of reporters at the Bulls’ training center, Jordan said he’d lost the motivation to play and had thought about retiring after leading the Bulls to their third straight NBA championship in June.

The 30-year-old superstar said his father’s slaying this summer was not the main reason behind his decision.

‘‘I was pretty much decided at that particular time, but I think what it made me realize was how short life is,’‘ he said.

‘‘I guess the biggest positive thing I can take out of my father not being here today is that he saw my last basketball game. That meant a lot,’‘ Jordan said.

Jordan had been dogged in the last year by reports of excessive gambling, and a highly publicized book about the Bulls portrayed him as a sometimes selfish player who looked down on most of his teammates.

He said media scrutiny had not driven him from the game but acknowledged that he won’t miss the spotlight.

Flanked by his wife, Juanita, and Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf, Jordan looked relaxed and frequently flashed the coy smile that graces billboards and airwaves worldwide.

He he still loves basketball and did not rule out a comeback, but said he’d never play for an NBA team other than the Bulls.

‘‘Five years down the line, if the urge comes back, if the Bulls will have me and (NBA commissioner) David Stern lets me back in the league, I may come back. But that’s a decision I don’t have to make at this moment,’‘ Jordan said.

Stern, who attended the news conference, said Jordan’s departure ‘‘means that an era is closing, that certainly one of the greatest players to play the game is leaving.’‘

Jordan’s departure follows the retirement last year of NBA greats Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, but Stern said the league is still strong.

Jordan’s graceful athleticism seemed to defy gravity and generated lots of copycats, but no player could match ‘‘Air’‘ Jordan’s accomplishments.

The NBA’s three-time MVP won seven scoring titles, led the Bulls to three straight championships and added two Olympic gold medals to his arsenal.

In his nine years in Chicago, Jordan became the Bulls’ all-time leading scorer and leaves a hole on the team that will be hard to fill.

Reinsdorf said he used to think of Jordan as the Babe Ruth of basketball. ‘‘I’ve now come to believe that Babe Ruth was the Michael Jordan of baseball.’‘

He called Jordan’s announcement a day before the start of the Bulls’ training camp ‘‘bittersweet.

‘‘It’s certainly sad because the greatest athlete ever to play a team sport is leaving the game,’‘ Reinsdorf said. But he added, ‘‘I’m absolutely convinced he’s doing the right thing. He’s doing what he wants to do.’‘

Teammate Scottie Pippen, hailed as the only likely Jordan heir apparent in the Bulls’ lineup, said he was saddened and dispirited by Jordan’s announcement.

‘‘How do you replace a guy like that?’‘ said Pippen, who attended the news conference wearing sunglasses and looking downcast.

‘‘I realize it’s going to be a different challenge’‘ without him, Pippen said. ‘‘I’m going to miss him.’‘

‘‘You’re kind of stunned, but this is something Michael has hinted at for a couple years,’‘ said teammate John Paxson. ‘‘I’m happy for him he’s able to walk away from the game on his terms.’‘

Said Bird, ‘‘No one was ever better than him.’‘

Magic Johnson predicted Jordan ‘‘probably will come back in one year to show everyone he’s still the king.’‘

‘‘I think that Michael probably just wants to be left alone now. He is tired of being under the microscope and just needs a little time off to be with his family,’‘ Johnson said.

But fans weren’t ready to say good-bye.

‘‘Michael Jordan leaving the game is a tragedy, to Chicago and to the NBA,’‘ said Art Erickson, one of many fans discussing Jordan at a Rush Street bar.

But for Jordan, looking forward to spending time with his wife and three children, the timing couldn’t be better.

‘‘I never wanted to leave when my skills started to diminish, because that’s when I’d feel the foot in my back, pushing me out the door,’‘ he said. ‘‘My skills are still good. I am not on the downside of my career. … This is the perfect time for me to walk away.’‘