It's hard to believe that Michael Jordan, arguably the greatest NBA player of all time, has been in retirement long enough to be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame next month.
It doesn't feel like Jordan's been gone long enough to be enshrined because he's still so visible. Turn on a television and there's a good chance you'll see him in a Hanes or Gatorade ad campaign.
Jordan Brand, the successful offshoot of Nike that carries the torch for MJ's signature Air Jordan sneakers, is still going strong as it creates shoes for the NBA's current and future stars. Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul and recent addition Dwyane Wade are among the players now representing the iconic Jumpman logo.
His presence is still felt around the game too. Jordan has had roles in management and ownership, first with Washington and later with Charlotte. Even dubious missteps like taking Kwame Brown first overall in 2001 and Adam Morrison third overall in 2006 haven't done a thing to dim his star power.
In the world of sports collectibles, Jordan's shadow is just as large. He remains a vital exclusive spokesman for Upper Deck, and his autographed memorabilia can easily command thousands of doallars.
It's no different in the world of basketball cards, where Jordan's 1986-87 Fleer rookie card is still an object of desire for many collectors more than 20 years after its release. He still pops up in current card sets too, and Upper Deck is producing a special box set to coincide with his entry into the Hall of Fame.
The Hall has been preparing for his arrival, opening a special Jordan exhibit earlier this month. Among the treasure trove of mementos are game-worn jerseys and shoes, some of his NBA championship rings, and even a batting glove from his brief foray into professional baseball.
It's common for new Hall of Famers in any sport to see a surge in interest in their cards and collectibles (and often a short-term boost in their prices too) as fans fondly take one more trip through their memories. For Jordan this seems impossible, as he's maintained a high profile ever since his retirement.
Then again, history tells us the normal rules don't apply to No. 23. When Jordan announced he was coming back to play for the Washington Wizards in 2001, basketball card manufacturers scrambled to get Jordan cards into their sets.
Though MJ was clearly past his prime, readily available base cards of Jordan from 2001-02 products were being sold for double-digit prices. No player before or since has had that type of clout.
The lesson is this: while Kobe Bryant may have matched his competitiveness and LeBron James may have more physical gifts, Jordan's mix of talent, popularity and marketability makes him a singular phenomenon. As an all-around package, Jordan remains the gold standard by which all others continue to be measured.
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