Jordan proved that dreams are reachable

While others here were engaged with whether Republicans and Democrats are fielding candidates into primaries in which they don’t belong, I spent spring break near Tucson, Ariz.

I relaxed for several days at a wonderful spa and kept the outside world at bay. (Although since I did speak with reporters from the Arizona Monthly and the Wall Street Journal, I wonder if I can write it off as a business expense?) No television, no cell phone, no fax, no e-mail.

The only news I had about the outside world was from the famously comprehensive USA Today. The only news that really had an effect on me was when I read that Michael Jordan had retired.

As a sports fan, I consider myself to be truly fortunate. I remember my father taking me to see Nolan Ryan pitch a Houston Astros game. I saw Cal Ripken play in Camden Yards. I saw Michael Jordan fly — not just on television, but in real life.

My Houston Astros experience was not unlike the Mastercard commercials — game tickets, hot dogs, programs and souvenirs were expensive, but the time spent with my Dad was priceless.

Nearly 30 years later, I’m grateful I was able to have the same experience with my son. I took him to see Jordan play with the Wizards. We were in the nose-bleed seats and needed at times to watch the game via the huge television screens, but once I found number “23” and the bald pate, I watched him throughout the game. He was great. Not as great as when he played with the Bulls and I watched the games religiously on WGN, but he was still, well, Mike.

An era has passed with the final retirement of Michael Jordan. Jordan played with finesse. He made everything seem so easy. Jordan was the epitome of grace, just as the Detroit Pistons with Bill Laimbeer and then the New York Knicks with Patrick Ewing were the epitome of thugs. They were direct where Jordan was laid back. They were aggressive where Jordan was gracious. They played with brute force where Jordan played with creativity and ease.

Basketball with Jordan has many parallels with real life. As I have experienced more of the world, I have encountered more people who were direct, forceful and aggressive, like Laimbeer and Ewing and fewer with the ease that comes with grace and talent, like Jordan. And I’ve watched basketball become that as well. The style and grace of Jordan, Dr. J, and Magic Johnson has gone.

Of the many articles that I’ve read about Michael Jordan’s retirement, one in particular really had an impact on me. Jerry Greene from the Orlando Sentinel compared Jordan to Frank Sinatra.

Greene said like Sinatra, Jordan did it his way. He took chances. Jordan gambled — at casinos, on golf games, on playing baseball and on returning to basketball. And with a gambler, it’s not so much whether you’ve won or lost but that you had the action, that you were in the game to begin with. And that’s the important lesson that Michael Jordan leaves with us. That would be why he could be a role model for our children. He took chances— he didn’t let life slip by him — he was actively engaged in living it to the fullest.

Think about what’s important to you — what are the dreams of your youth? When you say to yourself, “If I could do anything I wanted and not have to worry about money, what would I do?” Then ask yourself why aren’t you doing it?

Being a gambler, engaging in life to the fullest, makes each of us a better person. I spent three years gambling on a lifelong dream. Cynics and those ego-inflating (or deflating, as the case may be) Internet searches say I lost the elections. But I don’t feel like a loser. I feel empowered, feel confident to try other things. I won because I gambled and like a gambler, in the end, long after the election was over, it’s not whether I won or lost, but that I had been in the game. Doors opened to me that would not have if I hadn’t gambled.

Michael Jordan did what most of us only dream of doing — he got paid for doing something he loved. And when he was tired, he retired.

Then he tried something else (baseball), at which he managed to excel, but only in the ways joked about in the movie “Space Jam.” In the end, when it’s all said and done, we should be able to join Frank Sinatra and Michael on stage, leaning against a chair and singing “I did it my way.”

Denise Oppenhagen lives in Lake Ridge , tilting at windmills, ignoring the cynics and reliving fond memories of Jordan, Ryan, and Ripken.