Of course, Michael Jordan never retired 17 months ago. He just changed directions, letting fans and his marketing partners participate vicariously in his "can he do it" adventures on the baseball diamond. The answer to the "can Mike play Major League baseball" question is pretty plainly no. But who cares. If anything, Jordan seems a little less god-like and a little more human. That will stand him in good stead with the public and marketers in the years to come.
How Jordan will manage himself in this reincarnation, and how marketers use him, will be as fascinating as his on-court performance. Despite the championships and the celebrity, Jordan left the sports big-time under a cloud of family tragedy and un-Jordan-like ill humor with the media that dogged his every move-including his troubling gambling forays. Insider books about Jordan's Chicago Bulls also showed that locker room life with the old MJ was often no picnic for his teammates.
The Jordan that's returned seems calmer, refreshed and even a little humbler as he begins another tour as America's No. 1 sports celebrity (or is that No. 1 celebrity, period). Now Jordan, the ferocious competitior, has to find out if the old magic is there, and the fans get to wait and hope along with him. This is potentially a rich new vein for marketers to mine as Jordan enters his next stage as sports marketing star. Everyone would like a second chance at glory; now advertising can build around this comeback drama.
If his departure was spectacle, his return announcement was spare. "I'm back," he said simply. Marketers' simple reply should be: "Let's get started."