AS if hammering home a slam dunk from nowhere, Chicago Bulls star Michael Jordan announced his retirement Wednesday, ending the career of the one of the most stellar pro basketball players and most prominent sports celebrities in the world.
The announcement forever freezes Mr. Jordan's career at its zenith, shocking hometown Chicago not so much with what it ends as with what it denies.
Just a few months ago, Jordan led the Bulls to their third straight National Basketball Association (NBA) title.
Fans hoped that Jordan, through his dazzling play on both ends of the court, would lift the Bulls in the coming season to another title and himself to an unsurpassed position in the firmament of NBA stars.
``Ending my NBA career does not mean I won't play basketball somewhere else,'' Jordan said in making his announcement.
``I am very solid with my decision not to play.....I have always stressed to people who have known me that when I lose the sense of not having to prove something as a basketball player it is time for me to move away from basketball.''
Jordan, who was once called the Babe Ruth of his sport by Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf, has hung up his jersey over someone who never donned the same red and black uniform but who was known always to be at the center court of the ball player's heart.
On July 23 Jordan's father, James, was slain on a North Carolina roadside. The senior Jordan was known for helping his son put the dizzying pressure and esteem of pro sports in perspective.
He frequently went on the road with the team, playing cards in a hotel room with his son safe from the brash klieg lights of media attention.
By leaving the court at the acme of his career, Jordan hopes to avoid the slow decline in performance that has sullied the final seasons of many great players of basketball and other sports.
In many ways, Jordan has etched an incomparable record with a combination of hard-driving finesse on both offense and defense:
* Tied with Wilt Chamberlain with seven consecutive scoring titles.
* The highest career scoring average for the regular season, with 32.3 points per game.
* An average of 35.1 points in playoff games.
* An all-defensive, first-team member in the past six seasons.
* Three regular-season Most Valuable Player awards.
* Two Olympic gold medals.
Jordan became not only the most glittering star in the National Basketball's galaxy but one of the world's most recognizable celebrities, with his trademark shaved head, roomy shorts, and tongue-out court efforts.
Jordan the celebrity is partly the outgrowth of mega-endorsement contracts he has signed with Nike, McDonald's, and other corporations. These have turned him into a commercial messenger of the highest magnitude. Air Jordan sneakers and Nike's ``I like Mike'' are part of America's sidewalk vernacular.
His status on and off the court helped propel the whole NBA to a new visibility.
``I still won't believe it,'' Reggie Miller, a guard for the Indiana Pacers, told WBBN radio. ``To me he's still playing for the black and red; I'm still kinda in denial if you want to say so.''
``I'm stunned, totally stunned. I thought he'd play at least one year more, but it takes a lot of guts to quit at the top of your career,'' says Brett Hall, a Federal Express delivery man and a devout Bulls fan. ``A lot of fans won't be as interested in the Bulls like before - they'll be looking more at the [football] Bears now.''