What if you were rich beyond your wildest dreams? What if you had earned hundreds of millions of dollars over the years, and you decided to retire -- at the age of 35?
What would you do next?What if you were charismatic, handsome and a sharp dresser and sported a body of carved mahogany?
What if you had a mesmerizing baritone voice, and you carried yourself in public with great composure and dignity, and people hung on your every word?
What if you were so influential that you made baldness and baggy shorts cool, and if you decided to paint a racing stripe on your scalp people would do that, too?
What if you were so popular that people had been known to lie down in front of a bus for a chance to meet you?
What if you could do anything you wanted to, and you didn't have to answer to anyone except the guy in the mirror?
What if your name was Mike and advertisers and millions of people sang, "I want to be like Mike?"
What if your name was Michael Jordan, and you had the next half of your life to fill?
What would you do?
What will he do?
Jordan wondered the same thing as he talked to reporters just minutes after beating the Utah Jazz to win the world championship last June.
" . . . That's part of the challenge," he said. "I have another life, and I know I have to get to it at some point."
Now that he has reached that point, what will his other life be?
What will he do after he tires of golf, besides be a father and husband?
It won't be easy. Just ask Ruth, Gehrig, the Beatles, Thorpe, Lindbergh, Mantle, O.J. They all discovered the same thing: An encore is a difficult thing. The first half of their lives was a tough act to follow. Some icons -- Franklin Roosevelt, the Rolling Stones, Elvis, pro golfers -- don't even try.
Athletes struggle to find something original to do in the second half of their lives, something that would top or equal the first half. They tend to gravitate to the TV booth or to the sideline, or they do endorsements and make speeches and open restaurants and live off their names.
Wilt Chamberlain played volleyball and threatened to make a comeback -- as a shot putter. Joe Montana is a pitchman for Mervyn's. Joe DiMaggio came out of seclusion to advertise Mr. Coffee.
Joe Namath runs an online sports marketing service, works as a speaker for NFL Properties and has dabbled with TV talk shows. Bo Jackson gives speeches and tries to get movie parts, though not very successfully (he was a prison guard in "The Chamber"). Nolan Ryan pitches products instead of baseballs. Johnny Unitas opened a restaurant and started several businesses.
Magic Johnson, a successful businessman, tried to become Arsenio Hall and wound up with the same result. Larry Bird is a coach. Muhammad Ali is a professional icon. Jim Brown, whose plans for a movie career faded, works with black youths. Julius Irving runs an investment company and dabbles in NASCAR. Roger Staubach owns a real estate company. Bill Bradley and Steve Largent became congressmen.
But what will Jordan do?
He could continue his endorsements -- and will.
He could start his own country. He could call it . . . Jordan. Taken? How about West Jordan? Air Jordan?
He could make movies. He's already made a successful debut in Space Jam, but movie critics say there are limited parts for a 6-foot-6, bald, black man, and as an actor, he is considered stiff and lacking in grace (Michael Jordan?!). He would have to play himself on the big screen, and, really, how many times can he do that?
He could continue to design and market clothing, for which he has a real flair.
He could host a TV show -- but probably won't. Jordan realizes that limiting public appearances adds to the mystique, which Jordan has certainly nurtured.
He could model clothes for Tommy Hilfiger. This guy is so classy, he makes sweats look good.
He could design hotels. He's seen enough of them.
He could continue his piano studies, which he began in Salt Lake City during last year's playoffs.
He could be an IOC delegate -- he already has everything, so you can hold the gifts and cash.
He could work on hitting the curve ball or try out for the senior golf tour.
Or he could turn his attention to making a real difference and using his fame and money and influence for good. What if he decided that a hundred million dollars was enough, and he didn't need more, so he became a philanthropist? What if he reasoned that if he convinced the world to go bald and be like Mike, he could convince them to do right in matters of drunk driving, smoking, drug use, AIDs prevention, teen pregnancy? Couldn't he raise more money than anyone on earth for good causes, such as research for cancer or heart disease? What if he decided to use this rarest of opportunities in just such a way?
What could one man do? Anything, if he's Michael Jordan.