A city shares Jordan's legacy of joy

As Michael Jordan retires from the NBA, Chicagoans reflect onlosing their sure thing.

For Michael Jordan, there is a certain freedom that comes in playing basketball. He once explained it like this: "The basketball court for me, during a game, is the most peaceful place I can imagine. I truly feel less pressure there than any place I go," he told writer Bob Greene. "On the basketball court, I worry about nothing." But he isn't the only one who feels it. His playing brought great freedom to his fans, too, especially Chicagoans. They knew that when Jordan was on the floor, somehow, often in the final seconds, he would deliver a victory. He was Chicago's sure thing. Counting on him was like buying stock with insider information or - in that old Chicago tradition - rigging an election with phony votes. Before the race was run, people pretty much knew the outcome. But Jordan was legal and dramatic and graceful. It's one reason they're sad to see him retire. "He came through," says Chicago resident John Challenger. "He always came through. That just gives you great confidence in the world around you." In fact, in the past decade, Jordan's Bulls won twice as many championships as the city's four other pro sports franchises combined have won in the past 50 years. Chicago's other icon, gunslinging Al Capone, was eventually brought low by US tax law. But nothing has touched Michael Jordan. There was the corner jumpshot his freshman year in college that clinched the 1982 NCAA championship for North Carolina. There was "The Shot" in 1989, when he went high over Craig Ehlo to upset the Cleveland Cavaliers. There was his steal and game-winning jumper to beat the Utah Jazz in the final seconds of Game 6 of the NBA finals last June. By going out now, he leaves Chicagoans with only memories of the certainty of victory he brought to their lives and the pride he brought to their city - a rather new sensation for residents of this "second city" and fans of those "lovable losers," the Cubs. Indeed, because of Jordan, children all over the world know this city as the home of the best basketball team on earth. Letters arrive from far-off places addressed simply, "Michael Jordan, Chicago." With Jordan's help, Chicago has become nearly as much of a dreamed-about, mythical place as Santa's North Pole. But it isn't just all fairy-tale dust. It's money, too. Back in 1995, the city's Chamber of Commerce estimated that the Bulls sent $10.5 million surging into the economy every time they played at home. From 1992 to 1997, tourism jumped 21 percent - at least in part because of Jordan and the Bulls. Part of what Fortune magazine called "the Jordan effect" - the $10 billion impact he had on the United States economy - flowed to Chicago businesses, too. Yet some, perhaps blasphemously, are ready to move on from Jordan's reign of certainty. Twelve-year season-ticket holder and University of Chicago economics professor Allen Sanderson says his favorite Bulls season was when Jordan was playing baseball. "The rest of the guys were out there scrapping for all they were worth," he says wistfully. "It was fun to have a little competition." For the rest of Chicago - and anyone else who will miss Jordan - Mr. Challenger, who is head of the outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, has these (sometimes tongue-in-cheek) coping suggestions. "Write Jordan a goodbye letter, telling him how much his time in Chicago has meant to you and that you accept his departure. Mail it." "Remove from sight everything that says his name." "For those who have trouble with conversation, be prepared to inject a fresh subject if someone brings up his departure. Snow, perhaps." "Refocus your free time by taking up a cooking class or becoming a food server at a homeless shelter - or even a Cubs fan." As for which sports hero Chicagoans can turn to next, Challenger has this suggestion: "Sosa in '99."

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