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Review: Chronicling Jordan's 'Last Shot'

By L.D. Meagher

"One Last Shot"
By Mitchell Krugel
Thomas Dunne Books
320 pages

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(CNN) -- He tells us this is his last season, and, he tells us, this time he really means it.

We've heard Michael Jordan say that before. Twice, to be precise. Why should we believe him now? Even though his first NBA season began nearly 19 years ago, Jordan remains enough of a presence that the league named him the first Eastern Conference Player of the Week for 2003, and he stole the show at this year's All-Star Game. Why would he quit now?

In "One Last Shot," sportswriter Mitchell Krugel offers some possible answers that question, though that wasn't his intention. Krugel set out to solve a different riddle: why did Jordan come back -- with the Washington Wizards, no less -- in the first place?

He concludes, in the first place, that the best basketball player in the history of the game never found a comfortable niche for himself away from it. In the second place, Krugel concludes Jordan's ego just wouldn't let him go out the way he did -- on top.

Inside Number 23

The book is part detailed chronicle of Jordan's decision to re-enter the NBA and his first season in that still-unfamiliar blue uniform, and part psychoanalysis of a sports superstar. His breakdown of Jordan's play, and the progress of the team assembled around him, is penetrating and clear-eyed. His attempts to get inside the head of Number 23 are somewhat less successful, perhaps because he never spoke to Jordan personally.

Even so, Krugel offers some intriguing insights into the Jordan persona. Take, for example, his first game in Chicago against the Bulls.

"When the Wizards' team bus rolled west on Madison Avenue and the United Center appeared in the clearing hours before this game, Michael diverted his eyes and ordered full speed ahead to the players' entrance. The talk was, he didn't want to see that statue of himself on the eastern front of the arena. Indeed, the hardest part of this return to Chicago was that it made him understand ... he just wasn't that guy in the statue anymore."

Airing out the puns

There are factors in Jordan's life Krugel barely touches upon -- his rocky marriage and his gambling among them. Whether they played a part in Jordan's roller-coaster performance last season the author doesn't say. He focuses on the more public troubles -- the injuries and the revolving cast of supporting characters that Jordan tried to turn into a credible NBA team.

Krugel is a skillful and clever writer. Sometimes, too clever. He seems determined to wring every play-on-words possible from Jordan's "Air" appellation.

But, when he isn't trying to impress the reader, Krugel manages to impress the reader. His command of the language is a cut above the average sportswriter's. His eye for detail and nuance help breathe atmosphere into his depictions of arenas and locker rooms.

"One Last Shot" is thoroughly readable, and, as Jordan enters the home stretch of another "final season," a useful companion volume to the drama playing out on the court.

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