Michael Jordan, perhaps the greatest basketball player in the history of the sport, announced his retirement from the game on October 6, 1993. He was only 30 years old, and he had just led the Chicago Bulls to three NBA championships in a row.
After only 9 years in the NBA, Jordan’s legacy was solid. The city of Chicago was unified in their support and love of Jordan, and the three championships that the Bulls brought to the city provided an unbridled level of enthusiasm, electricity and joy the city would not see again until the Cubs won the World Series in 2016.
In announcing his retirement, Jordan said he was deeply affected by the murder of his father just three months before. He lost his desire to play the game. He was done. The city felt like they got punched in the gut, but there was also a palpable level of understanding and sympathy. Jordan had experienced unbelievable victory and tragedy. He was famous, he was rich, and he lost his hero and role model. He walked away.
Driving into work the day after Jordan’s retirement announcement, I was listening to WXRT, the finest radio station in the city of Chicago. Morning host Lin Brehmer was reflecting on Jordan’s retirement after the news, and then he played a song in honor of Jordan’s decision. A sweet, picked acoustic guitar melody followed by a wry, wise voice.
“If I had a boat, I’d go out on the ocean.
If I had a pony, I’d ride him on my boat.
And we could altogether, go out on the ocean.
Me up on my pony on my boat.”
“If I Had a Boat” by Lyle Lovett, released in 1988, perfectly captures the sense of peace and serenity only brought about by escape and adventure. Being able to get on your horse and ride out of town, wherever you wanted to go to, even on a boat, where you could ride your pony endlessly at sea.
Lyle Lovett was part of a movement of country based singer-songwriters who found fame in the mid to late 1980’s. Along with Lovett, artists like Steve Earl, Nancy Griffith, John Hiatt and Dwight Yoakam slathered their country music with heavy doses of folk, rock and even jazz and soul to create something completely new. Lyle Lovett found fame with hipsters, yuppies and country traditionalists. Sporting an ungainly tower of curly hair on his head with a mouth jaggedly gashed between his nose and chin, Lovett has a face only radio could love.
Odd looking though he is, he always appears on stage impeccably dressed in a suit and tie with a large multi-racial band of the best musicians in the business behind him, including famed 1970’s studio wiz Russ Kunkel on drums.
But Lovett has always been about more than just a unique look and traditional music in a contemporary style. He is one of the best songwriters of the last 30 years. He is a virtuoso musician, he has a beautiful voice, and everything is firmly grounded in excellent songwriting.
“If I were Roy Rogers
I’d sure enough be single
I couldn’t bring myself to marrying old Dale
It’d just be me and Trigger
We’d go ridin’ through them movies
Then we’d buy a boat and on the sea we’d sail”
It’s as if Michael Jordan is saying “the Chicago Bulls will not keep me tied down, neither will our three championships. I just need my pony, and my boat. Together, we will get out of here.” The songwriting skill continues with what is might be this excellent songwriter’s very best lyric.
“Now the mystery masked man was smart
He got himself a Tonto
‘Cause Tonto did the dirty work for free
But Tonto he was smarter
And one day said Kemosabe
‘Kiss my ass I bought a boat
I’m going out to sea'”
After he left basketball, Michael Jordan played minor league baseball, and then returned to the Bulls and led them to an amazing additional three championships. He retired again, but even as an elder statesman of basketball still talks about maybe one day playing professional basketball again. He probably will, because what Michael Jordan does is always on his terms in his own way.
Kiss my ass, I’m doing what I want to do. I’m going out to sea.
“If I Had a Boat”
Written by Lyle Lovett
Performed by Lyle Lovett