How Michael Jordan (Briefly) Dropped From Greatness And Other Cautionary Tales

By Ali Khaled
13 January 2019
Michael Jordan, Basketball, Baseball, Football, Usain Bolt, Paolo Maldini
AFPGetty Images
Twenty years ago, Michael Jordan retired - for the second time - from the NBA following an average spell with the Washington Wizards and an ill-fated baseball career. He's not the only one who thought he could play another sport either.

Michael Jordan

Few would argue that Michael Jordan is the finest basketball player of all time, and his fans would even insist the greatest athlete of all time.You won’t find us arguing much with the first claim though he somehow tarnished his reputation with a stint as a baseball player after retiring from basketball in October 1993 following three NBA titles with the Chicago Bulls.

A few months after his retirement, Jordan announced that he was having trials with the Chicago White Sox, who shared an owner, Jerry Reinsdorf, with the Bulls. Once signed up, Jordan ended up playing 127 games for the team’s minor league affiliate the Birmingham Barons in the 1994 season, finishing with the not-too-legendary batting average of .202, 51 RBIs, and 30 stolen bases.

Lesson learned, Jordan returned to basketball, and greatness, a year later to help the Bulls repeat the "Threepeat" in between 1996 and 1998. On January 13, 1999 he retired from basketball for a second time - although he would come out of retirement for a second time in 2001 (to play for the Washington Wizards) at least on that occasion, with the sense to stick to what he does best.

Usain Bolt

Usain Bolt

Usain Bolt is pretty fast. In fact the fastest, and arguably greatest, athlete of all time. After many Olympic and world titles and records at 100m, 200m and relay events, Bolt retired in 2017. With typical indecent haste, he decided to pursue a career in football.

After a few training sessions with Borussia Dortmund in Germany, Bolt joined the Central Coast Mariners in Australia’s A-League with an eye on becoming a professional footballer. “Anything is possible,” he said. He even scored in a pre-season friendly match against a team of local amateurs in October 2018.

But many people, especially coaches and players, were not convinced. Turns out football requires a little bit more than blistering pace and a competent touch. Sure enough, Bolt left the Mariners at the start of November 2018. His dream of playing for Manchester United is likely to remain just that.

Deion Sanders

Deion Sanders

Deion Sanders is one of a very rare group of athletes who actually had successful careers in two sports. Sanders excelled at baseball and American football while at Florida State University and was good enough to be pursued by professional teams in both sports.

Drafted by Major League Baseball (MLB) powerhouses New York Yankees in 1988 a year later joined the Atlanta Falcons of the NFL, starting what would become a double-career at several franchises spanning three decades.

When it comes to medals, although he was part of the Atlanta Braves that lost the 1992 World Series, he made up for that with by winning the Super Bowl with the San Francisco 49ers in 1994 and the Dallas Cowboys in 1995 - the benefits of playing two sports.

Sanders remains the only sportsman to play in the finals of these two major sports.

Maldini tennis

Paolo Maldini

Most footballers can only dream of the career Paolo Maldini had. The legendary defender won seven Serie A titles and five Champions League (European Cup) medals in fabled 24-year career.

Maldini’s athleticism meant he played on until he was 40 before retiring in 2009. Still supremely fit, and presumably bored, he decided to take up tennis, even qualifying alongside doubles partner Stefano Landonio, to an ATP tournament.

Sadly his professional career lasted less than one half of a football match, a 41-minute 6-1, 6-1 loss to Tomasz Bednarek and David Pel at the Aspria Tennis Cup in Milan prompting Maldini quit tennis immediately.

Daley Thompson

Daley Thompson

Where Usain Bolt has so far failed, another legendary athlete succeeded back in the 1990s by playing professional football. But only to a point.

As a decathlete, Daley Thompson was already proficient at 10 sports. What’s one more?

After an incredible athletics career that saw him claim two Olympics titles, one World Championship and four world records, Thompson retired in 1992.

That however did not stop him from playing professional football with Mansfield Town and Stevenage. Sure, not the most high profile of clubs, but more than certain other athletes can claim.