Any chance Michael Jordan could return again?

February, 11, 2011
2/11/11
2:04
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
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NBA hearts skipped a beat yesterday at word that Michael Jordan has been suiting up and practicing with the Bobcats. After running with him, Gerald Wallace reports the man is still "Mike." (Even though that's just repeating the man's name, it's that name.) And don't forget what Jordan said upon entering the Hall of Fame:
One day you might look up and see me playing the game at 50. Don't laugh. Never say never, because limits, like fears, are often just an illusion.
He's turning 48 next week. Paul Silas says Jordan could average 20 right now. Is he ... could he ... is this ridiculous to think about? He can't play in the NBA until he sells the Bobcats, but is it worth entertaining that he could? A while ago, I looked into the possibility of another Jordan return:

I called Attack Athletics, the multi-faceted gym owned by the man who trained Jordan, Tim Grover. Mike Procopio is the director of basketball operations there. I asked him if it was conceivable that a 50-year-old could play in the NBA.

"The person would have to be an exceptional athlete," he says. "You'd have to be someone with a lot of size, real skills and toughness. I think it would probably have to be somebody who had stayed in good shape after their playing days -- it would be really hard after doing nothing. If you had the right person, they might need three or four months of boot camp, and then I think it wouldn't be too hard to get them into good enough shape."

The player you'd be left with, he says, would likely be able to look really good for a few games. One worry, he says, would be on defense, where the need to stick to quicker player might often seem like the teams were playing "six on four."

The flaw in the plan, Procopio says, would come not from a trip or two up and down the court, or even a game. "We could get you in shape," he says. It would come from the long schedule, the banging, and the inevitable wear and tear. "You can get fit, and I bet that for 10 or 15 games you could do it. But any player that age would have a lot of miles on those joints, knees, tendons, soft tissue ... and with all the banging and changing direction, those little injuries could be hard to recover from. If a 25-year-old pulls a hamstring, it could be a few weeks of recovery. For a 50-year-old, it could be a lot longer than that."

He's skeptical that anyone as old as 50 could keep their body healthy and functioning through an 82-game season. A shorter season -- for instance returning for a month or two before the playoffs may reduce the likelihood of trouble.

In general, Procopio didn't sound at all sure such an achievement was possible. But that was talking about athletes generally. Would Jordan -- a man of unquestioned will -- be subjected to the same limitations?

"Oh no no no no," Procopio says. "I'm talking about everybody else."

Henry Abbott | email

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