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Jordans should at least try for a reconciliation

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WASHINGTON — Our vision is so obscured by 200 million floating dollar signs and our own hero-worshipping inclinations that we can't find it in our hearts to say to Michael and Juanita Jordan the one thing that might be helpful: Hey, kids, try to work it out.

I speak (as do virtually all of those weighing in on the subject of this high-stakes bust-up) from a vast store of ignorance. I've never met Michael Jordan and wouldn't know Juanita if she winked at me across a crowded room. I know nothing of their marriage — its pleasures or its problems.

Still, it distresses me that we are spending so much time trying to figure out what ought to be her rightful share of the fruits of his vast earning power — and so little encouraging them to try to redeem their broken marriage, with professional assistance if that helps.

Maybe one or the other of them has done something so awful that even you and I would find it impossible to forgive. But the possibility occurs to me that at least part of the problem may be the thing of which most of us are so envious — the trappings of wealth.

I mean that both ways: trappings as in the material manifestations of money — expensive cars, mansions, entourages — but also trappings as in the limitations imposed by the near-total absence of a private life.

It's the first that has so many of us envious. Bill Gates may be richer, but a lot of us secretly would like to "be like Mike" — rich, yes, but also handsome, charming, a man's man and irresistible to women. There's something about being in the presence of Jordan that is different — headier — than being in the presence of most people you can think of. You want to get closer, to touch him, and if he'd acknowledge your presence, you'd have a memory to keep forever.

What that means, of course, is that he is infinitely less free than you are. You can go to a movie, or out for a quiet dinner, or shopping for a pair of shoes. He can't — unless he's endorsing the theater, the restaurant or the shoemaker. We envy the way everything he touched seemed to turn to money — even during the period of his retirement from basketball. We may even envy the fact that any number of attractive young women would be available to him if he'd just waggle a finger.

But think how hard it must be for someone like this superstar to be what we ordinary guys are all the time: husband, spouse, unexploited friend. And think how hard it must be to be the wife of such a figure.

Mike and Juanita knew some of this before they chose one another, of course — and still they did choose. They must have seen something, felt something, that they thought would get them past these difficulties. I wish they'd take the time to try to rediscover what they saw and felt, and at least see if it can be recaptured. And I wish their families and close friends would butt in enough to encourage just such an attempt.

Whether he wants it or not, Michael is a role model for millions, young and not-so-young. It would be powerful it he would say (either publicly or by his behavior) marriage can be tough, but it's important, worth some significant sacrifice, some trying again.

It may be, of course, that it's Juanita who finds the marriage too confining, that Mike wants nothing more than that it should be permanent. But I'll join the world in assuming that it's Michael who will be paying scores of millions in exchange for unfettered freedom, imagining those two words to mean the same thing.

One of the advantages of growing older is that you learn something about values. If shoes get a little tight, you get rid of them. If a marriage starts to feel a little tight, you make adjustments. The Jordan kids would benefit from knowing their parents tried — really tried — to make it work. The couple themselves need to know that the marriage commitment is fundamentally important, not something to be written off like a non-playoff season.

And the rest of us need to know that nobody is too rich, too gifted, too powerful, too revered for our accomplishments to make the sacrifices the rest of us must make to keep our marriages together.

Hey, kids, try to work it out.


William Raspberry's e-mail address is willrasp@washpost.com