When you gotta go...

BILL HARRIS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:42 AM ET

It's hard to fathom that Michael Jordan, Dennis Rodman, Todd MacCulloch and Vince Carter all share essentially the same genetic makeup. Jordan, obsessed. Rodman, desperate. MacCulloch, victimized. Carter, petulant.

Those four basketball players have been in the news in the past week, albeit for dramatically different reasons. Their stories reveal that while they may inhabit the same planet, they are not living in the same world.

Jordan, arguably the greatest player in NBA history, is rumoured to be interested in making yet another comeback -- his third -- this time with the Miami Heat. You'll notice that Jordan didn't seem so keen on joining the Heat to play with Rafer Alston last season. But now that Shaquille O'Neal is in south Florida, things may have changed.

Now, someone simply may have seen Jordan working out and leapt to conclusions. Regardless, O'Neal apparently has let it be known in private discussions with his new Miami teammates that he does not want the 41-year-old Jordan to come aboard. After all, Shaq just left the Los Angeles Lakers because he got sick of sharing the ball and the spotlight with Kobe Bryant.

Meanwhile, Rodman, who at 43 is even older than Jordan, this week ran through an unofficial workout with the Denver Nuggets. According to reports, The Worm was alarmingly worm-like. Still, he just can't seem to let the game go.

Like countless boxers, or tennis great Martina Navratilova, or Magic Johnson, Jordan and Rodman have not been able to find anything in their lives outside the actual playing of their sports that satisfies their respective urges, whatever they may be.

It's ironic to think just how many athletic giants become objects of pity when their retirements turn into failed, temporary retirements. We feel sorry for them, but maybe we shouldn't.

Perhaps we just don't understand the magnetic pull that high-level competition has on those who have known nothing else.

And then, some athletes have their initial careers cut short, rendering remote the likelihood of any comeback attempts. MacCulloch, the affable Canadian seven-footer, announced his retirement from the NBA on Tuesday at the tender age of 28 because of a disease no one can pronounce, let alone understand.

MacCulloch suffers from a disorder that is believed to be Charcot-Marie-Tooth, which affects his balance and causes his feet to ache horrifically. MacCulloch never was the most fleet of foot, nor was he as gifted as Jordan or Rodman. But MacCulloch's quiet hard work and underrated dry sense of humour endeared him to teammates and coaches, both at the NBA level and with the Canadian national team.

And finally there's Carter, who -- unlike Jordan, Rodman and MacCulloch -- does not seem to pour his entire heart into playing in the NBA.

IDENTIFYING PLACES

Few athletes have come along who are as naturally talented as Carter, but increasingly his top skill is identifying places where he doesn't want to play basketball. Presently the list includes Toronto and, well, any team in the Western Conference.

Jordan, Rodman and MacCulloch would do just about anything to play in the NBA again. Conversely, Carter wants to play only when and where it suits him.

When Carter's career is over, will it pain him to leave the game the way it has pained Jordan, Rodman and MacCulloch?

Or will Carter be more comfortable outside basketball than he is in it, never looking back and perhaps never quite appreciating what he had?

Four basketball players, four different situations, four different attitudes.

There's no right or wrong here, but obviously the path to contentment varies wildly depending upon the individual.


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