When Nothing Else Matters: Michael Jordan's Last Comeback

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"As one of the greatest, most celebrated athletes in history, Michael Jordan conquered professional basketball as no one had before. Powered by a potent mix of charisma, nearly superhuman abilities, and a ferocious need to dominate the game, he won six NBA championships with the Chicago Bulls and captured every basketball award and accolade conceivable before retiring and taking a top executive post with the Washington Wizards. But retirement didn't suit the man who was once king, and at the advanced age of thirty-eight Michael Jordan set out to
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When Nothing Else Matters: Michael Jordan's Last Comeback

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"As one of the greatest, most celebrated athletes in history, Michael Jordan conquered professional basketball as no one had before. Powered by a potent mix of charisma, nearly superhuman abilities, and a ferocious need to dominate the game, he won six NBA championships with the Chicago Bulls and captured every basketball award and accolade conceivable before retiring and taking a top executive post with the Washington Wizards. But retirement didn't suit the man who was once king, and at the advanced age of thirty-eight Michael Jordan set out to reclaim the court that had been his dominion." "When Nothing Else Matters is the definitive account of Jordan's equally spectacular and disastrous return to basketball. Having gone on the road to chronicle Jordan's final two seasons, award-winning Washington Post writer Michael Leahy draws a portrait of a deeply complex man waylaid by his impulses and impatience, frequently hampered by injuries, assaulted by younger players eager to usurp his throne, and ultimately done in by his presumption. Encouraged for two decades by his sport's magnates to believe that he had no limits or superiors, Jordan could not see his influence and power fading as his Wizards days ticked down and his team's losses and dissension grew. For teammates and outsiders alike, the star emerged as a relentlessly driven, at times unapproachable personality. Leahy reveals the striking contrast between Jordan's public image and the man who couldn't stand not "bein' it."" Hell-bent on transforming the mediocre Wizards into championship contenders, Jordan controlled every facet of his new team, dispensing orders behind the scenes to coaches and players. As his anger and bitterness over Washington's on-court setbacks became increasingly public, his teammates' resentment of him stoked already burgeoning tensions between Jordan and the Wizards' top brass. Leahy unmasks the myths and unravels the deeper lessons behind the highs and lows of the two seasons, il
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Editorial Reviews

Allen St. John
At its best, When Nothing Else Matters is the fourth act of a Shakespeare play, the one where the hero's tragic flaws are revealed. And during his comeback, Jordan is Macbeth in high-tops, with the same drive that made him a legend now undermining him as he struggles to ignore a chronic knee injury that ultimately would end his season … When Nothing Else Matters tells the gripping tale of an aging superstar moving reluctantly from the one place where he was in complete control to a world where the rules weren't as clear-cut.
— The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
After serving as president and part owner of the Washington Wizards for two years, Jordan, bored by his executive duties and frustrated by the team's poor play, returned to the court in 2001 in a bid to revitalize the struggling basketball franchise. But the aging superstar's attempt to resurrect the team flopped as the Wizards failed to make the playoffs in either of Jordan's two playing seasons. While the highs and lows of Jordan's comeback are known to most basketball fans, Leahy, a Washington Post feature writer who covered Jordan's return, offers an in-depth look at the inner turmoil that plagued the Jordan-led Wizards. In a smartly written, often angry work that is as much a sports story as a psychology study and condemnation of the media that built up the Jordan myth, Leahy not only documents Jordan's performance on the floor, but examines what motivated him to play despite serious knee problems. Leahy also deals with the role sportswriters (he makes it clear he isn't one) play in building America's athletes into godlike characters, a practice he abhors. Leahy has no use for idol worship and casts all three of the book's main figures-Jordan, coach Doug Collins and majority owner Abe Pollin-in unfavorable lights. This engaging read is marred by one flaw: Leahy's tendency to insert himself into the story. Agent, David Black. (Nov.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Michael Jordan is unquestionably one of the National Basketball Association's greatest all-time stars. During his career, he dominated the game, leading the Chicago Bulls to six championships. In 1999, Jordan retired (for the second time) from playing professional basketball to assume an administration position with the NBA's Washington Wizards. In 2001, at age 38, he returned to the court as a player. Leahy, a staff writer with the Washington Post newspaper and magazine, offers an entertaining first book that aptly describes Jordan's return to the sport, a venture that was, according to the author, as spectacular as it was disastrous. The author details the many challenges Jordan faced, from injuries and younger players to a bruised ego and a pride that interfered with executive decisions. Although the book is, overall, not a flattering portrayal of Jordan, fans will want to read this. Buy where demand warrants. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 2/15/04.]-Larry R. Little, Penticton P.L., B.C. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Washington Post reporter Leahy sees the legendary player's sad return to professional basketball as a parable of all that is wrong with an industry that milks players of iconic status. In 2000, the Washington Wizards hired Michael Jordan to be the club's president. Surprise, surprise, writes Leahy: the move was made to capitalize on Jordan's star power; principal owner Abe Pollin hoped to bolster the Wizards' poor performance and, more importantly, to fill seats in the arena. Detailed by the Post to follow this story over the course of a year, the skeptical but evenhanded reporter chronicles Jordan's abortive resurrection and explains what it was all about-essentially, money and entitlement. For the year and a half that Jordan served as a Wizards executive, he was at best an absentee landlord; later, as a player, he displayed the diminishing talents of someone kissing 40: knees in tatters, wrists twisted by tendonitis, loss of cool. Leahy is not out to do a hatchet job, but he won't pretend to be impressed by the emperor's new clothes. He will call Jordan for presumptuousness and uncourtly behavior, for dismissiveness and slighting of fellow players, for bad work habits and general ham-fistedness. He will cut the star a little slack for being a child of the bubble, riding high on his earnings and the absurd media grovelings (degrading evidence of journalists' complicity in making a god out of someone who plays a game), protected to a fare-thee-well. But he will then cut Jordan down to size-a mere six feet, say-for arrogance and "how helpless he seemed to be against the pull of his appetites." The point is that havoc trails upon sport stardom, and Leahy makes it more than well. Theself-immolating trajectory of a display of hubris worthy of Aristophanes' contempt, complete with the inevitable fall from grace. Agent: David Black
From the Publisher
"The best sports book of the year...easily the most fully formed portrait of Jordan ever written."

"Riveting, myth-shattering."
— Dan McGrath, Chicago Tribune

"Michael Leahy has written a heck of a book....Mr. Leahy combines an unrelenting eye for detail with extraordinary big-picture analysis."
— Jon Ward, The Washington Times

"A gripping behind-the-scenes book...an important corrective to our current celebrity culture."
— John Marshall, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

"When Nothing Else Matters gives us the best look we are likely to have of Jordan in decline...The result is a richly detailed, anecdote-driven account of one of the most famous men in the world approaching the end of his rope."
— Ron Rapoport, Chicago Sun-Times

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780743254267
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • Publication date: 11/1/2004
  • Pages: 448
  • Product dimensions: 6.12 (w) x 9.25 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Michael Leahy is a staff writer for The Washington Post and The Washington Post Magazine. The recipient of numerous awards for journalistic excellence, Leahy has been honored with the selection of his stories for the 2001, 2002, 2003, and 2004 editions of The Best American Sports Writing anthologies. He lives outside Washington, D.C.

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Read an Excerpt

When Nothing Else Matters

Michael Jordan's Last Comeback
By Michael Leahy

Simon & Schuster

Copyright © 2004 Michael Leahy
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0743254260


It began derailing after season one. His world was FUBAR by then. A promising young teammate, Richard Hamilton, had dared to stand up to him in a mutual searing of egos, and found himself traded. The mounting dissension on the team called to mind a word that Michael Jordan and some of his old Chicago Bulls associates exchanged during the Bulls' glory days to describe something or someone gone bad indefinitely. It was a code word, an acronym. FUBAR: Fucked Up Beyond All Recognition. By his last season, the Washington Wizards were hopelessly FUBAR.

Michael Jordan's three years in Washington -- about a year and nine months as an official executive and two seasons as a player -- were troubled from the start. Before his comeback began, The Washington Post dispatched me to watch him for an entire season, and much of a second. I valued the experience, even the awfulness, which I hesitate admitting because I realize it sounds peculiar and a little perverse. But if you wanted to know what forces -- money and a sense of entitlement, most of all -- coarsened professional sports in the last gasps of the 20th century and the beginning of the new millennium, it behooved you to have been witness to the Wizards and the Michael Show.

Not everybody around me thought so. The Wizards coach, Doug Collins, called me a "stalker." Someone at my own paper, a sportswriter friend of Jordan, let it be known that he wouldn't talk to me, wouldn't read me. The coolest, savviest person was always Michael Jordan. Looking for a solution to the problem my presence caused, unable to banish me like an irksome teammate, he quietly turned toward his people for a solution, leading one of his publicists to advise me that I would perhaps enjoy more cooperation from Jordan if I could assure her that I would not be writing a book. Besides orchestrating deals and advancing fables, the protectors of a sports god have only a few essential duties: to shelter Him from taxable income and any unseemly truths, not always in that order -- and to keep people like me away. Seduction is part of the game, and writers are often easy prey, anxious to have the cachet that accompanies being regarded as a Jordan favorite.

"He's Jordan's guy," someone would say of a journalist who made it known he was a Jordan friend. You never heard such an admission, or description, outside of sports journalism. No one ever refers to a top political columnist in this country as, say, "Bush's guy" or "Clinton's guy" or "Kerry's guy," because for a political columnist to be regarded as anybody's guy would be the ultimate insult. By contrast, the sports industry is filled with athletes' buddies and mouthpieces.

Michael Jordan offered them the celebrity's form of friendship: small morsels of self-serving information in exchange for the tacit understanding that they'd never write or say anything critical about him. So you didn't read much, say, about how he called a teammate a "faggot."

Understand this: Truth, or complete truth, is a deferred commodity in sports when it comes to idols. It isn't only some of the media that stay quiet. No one is more responsible for hiding truths than a team's management and ownership. The big truths are placed in a lockbox as long as the god makes the franchise a lot of money. And Michael Jordan made a lot of money for a lot of people.

But ownership at least saw a tangible benefit. For the media, the rewards were scant. Jordan sometimes would tell his media favorites about a teammate or club official he'd lost confidence in, or a trade he wanted to see happen. In special cases, he'd invite them to parties. He wouldn't give them much, but they'd be grateful just the same.

The consequence? The consequence is that sometimes sportswriting is a fairy tale, and that you're reading this because you hope it's not.

Now that it is over, I can tell you this: You can have all the money and power in this world, and while it might protect you against all sorts of intrusions, it doesn't insulate you from somebody like me. I am not gleeful about that. It just is. I am the paid voyeur with a press pass following you from city to city, and staring at you in locker rooms and other public settings, and glimpsing too many of your quasi-private moments in hallways, and asking you questions in Wilmington, Washington, Detroit, Cleveland, Chicago, Indianapolis, New Jersey, Houston, Milwaukee, Miami, Phoenix, Minneapolis, Salt Lake City, Boston, Atlanta, San Antonio, Philadelphia, L.A., New York, Dallas, Everywhere, and who has nothing to lose if my omnipresence has come to make you uncomfortable.

Nothing to lose is the key. A subject can't possess a hold over you, can't be allowed to block you from writing what you know by hinting that he'll never talk to you again if you cross him. There can't be anything the celebrated athlete can take away from you -- notably special access to him. I had nothing special, and so nothing to lose. It freed me. How did it work each night? people ask me, and I never know how to answer that, because I never really abided by any of the norms -- the protocol, the emphasis on limiting the number of questions that weren't about the game that evening, the silly deference to officials dissembling, the interest in numbing questions about that "turning point" in the second half, the discretion not to ask anything the subject didn't want posed, the nodding of a head to some babble being spouted by a self-serving coach, the complicity of some of the media in what was seldom more than a public relations exercise by that coach, that star, the Washington Wizards executives and NBA officials.

It was that babble that so offended, and that babble that triggered the urge to know what was really happening.

Copyright © 2004 by Michael Leahy


Excerpted from When Nothing Else Matters by Michael Leahy Copyright © 2004 by Michael Leahy. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents



1 The Purge, May 2003

2 "Nothin' Compares to Bein' it"

3 The New World

4 When Supremacy Ends

5 Resurrection

6 Secrets and Tensions

7 The Costs of Pretending

8 Collapse — and the End of the New Jacks

9 One More Gamble

10 "They are probably the most fragile team I've ever been around..."

11 The Backlash

12 The Romance Ends


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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 12 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 9, 2004

    Leahy reveals the truth behind His Airness

    Washington Post staff writer Michael Leahy was assigned to follow basketball icon Michael Jordan during his two-year return to basketball with the Washington Wizard. Leahy took on the task of flying around the nation, observing practices, talking to former and current players and observed the environment surrounding the world¿s greatest basketball star. Leahy takes the reader into the ¿tube¿ surrounding Jordan, called that by the author to describe the isolation that Jordan lived in and how he allowed people in it or removed them from his life. The term ¿tube¿ is fitting as the basketball icon did not live a bubble, a bubble could burst at any moment. Jordan¿s tube was created by him, filled with those who he trusted and those who turned on him were forced out. This is not a book about how ¿the great one¿ returned to grace the hardwood and once again save the day for the NBA, David Stern and the lowly Washington Wizards. ¿When Nothing Else Matters: Michael Jordan¿s Last Comeback¿ is a straight-forward look into the ego-maniacal world of a basketball star who regretted retiring, again, an athlete who failed as a basketball executive and then utilized all his power to orchestrate his return, his rehabilitation and eventual exit. While Jordan exercised his will during his below-average return to the Wizards, it was Washington owner, Abe Pollin, who had the final laugh, refusing to allow Jordan to return to the organization¿s front office after Jordan filled the MCI Center for 82 consecutive sold-out home games. Jordan had met his match, not on the basketball court, but in the NBA executive circles. The basketball icon failed to follow the golden rule of ¿Remember who you step on the way up the corporate ladder, you may see them on your way down.¿ Leahy does not bow down to the king of round ball, raising him to new found heights all in the hopes of entering the tube with the allure of writing a book about Jordan. Instead, Leahy¿s book proves that the basketball emperor has no clothes. His factual accounts could not appear in the pages of two of the most popular sports magazine who paid homage to the player ad nausea and would never appear in an authorized biography due to the required pasteurization demanded by the star. Instead, Leahy was allowed to do his job as a journalist for one of the most respected daily newspapers in the nation and relay his findings to the reader, both in newspaper print and fortunately for the reader, in ¿When Nothing Else Mattered: Michael Jordan¿s Last Comeback.¿

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 10, 2004


    Like his previous offerings on Michael Jordan, Washington Post writer Michael Leahy's book is a testament to the author himself, intelligent, literate and highly conscious. Through Leahy's work, we see a Michael Jordan who is by turns homophonic, profane, philandering and lonely, a man for whom, Leahy argues, only games seem to matter. More than just a chronicle of Jordan's last comeback, this is an examination of a culture in which even prestige reporters cheer athletes on and the public is left holding the bag. And that's why Leahy deserves acclaim (His writing has been a fixture in the Best of American Sports Writing books for the last fours years, not to mention the subject of numerous awards). For unlike his Post colleague Michael Wilbon, a man of much lesser talent as a writer and reporter who has expressed dislike to Leahy's reporting, Leahy is a journalist's journalist whose work we are all better for, made more hip to the game.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 26, 2004

    best book on jordan ever

    this book is a fantastic book for any michael jordan fan. you know what scratch that a good book for andybody who enjoys a good book. it really made me see the man behind the man. i had no idea the love this man truly had for the game until i read it. i can only say that michael jordan will forever have my respect as a real man.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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