ELKHART LAKE, WIS. — Michael Jordan entered the Road America facility Sunday with an eager stride, and a glint in his eye as he waited for a day of racing to begin.
A foreboding gray sky draped over the distant hilltops. Jordan hardly noticed. The former Chicago Bulls great took a perch on the deck, offering an enthusiastic wave to his Jordan Suzuki team prepping across the track.
In 2004 -- a few months after a late-night encounter with other riders at a downtown Chicago gas station -- Jordan formed a motorcycle racing team, Michael Jordan Motorsports, fielding racers in the AMA Superbike and Superstock series.
But before the waterlogged main races, Jordan kicked up his blindingly white Nikes for a one-on-one interview, discussing a wide range of topics: LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Scottie Pippen and the NBA.
On the ascendance of Cleveland and James:
"I think you see some growth. Expectations have been there, the signs have been there. What just transpired was something I felt was needed for the league, was needed for Cleveland, was needed for LeBron. Now the test comes in being consistent and continuing that elevation, and not getting complacent."
On whether James made "The Leap" to superstardom:
"He showed signs. Making 'The Leap' is where you do it every single night. It's expected of you, and you do it. That, to me, is 'The Leap.' Not one game, not two games. It's consistent. Every defense comes in and they focus on you and you still impact the game. I think he's shown signs of that. I think he's going to continue to grow with that.
"The test is going to come for him to consistently do that every single night, when everybody expects it. And he expects it of himself. But he took a big step in that right direction in this last series. This next series is going to say, 'How far do you want to take it?' "
On Bryant and his frustration:
"Frustration is a part of the game, especially with a competitor. You want to win so bad, and you've been there, and you want to get back there -- and you feel it hasn't really happened that way, and you look for reasons why. I think the unfortunate thing is, we judge him in a very emotional state. He's watching these young kids continue to play, and he's not. It gets at him. And he starts looking for reasons.
"That's understandable, but I think he's got a good scenario over there -- a good GM, a good coach. I understand the frustration. I never got to that point, but I can't say that I can't identify with it. The worst time for that to happen is now. You want to play. Who wants to be home watching basketball? You want to be out there at the most important time of the season. Then you sit down and you get frustrated and you start pointing fingers or looking for reasons why. He'll get out of that, as basketball gets away, and summer comes. I think he'll mellow back and understand the organization is still trying to make the right moves."
On Pippen's comments that teams would rather have a 'Scottie' than a 'Michael':
"There's some truth to that. The one thing I'm never going to do is demean or diminish the importance of Scottie Pippen as a wingman, or as my teammate. Everybody needs, I think, a Scottie Pippen. Most of the successful teams are going to need a Michael Jordan.... Can you win with one and not the other? I don't know. I have yet to see that, in some respects.
"I think you're always going to have a leader, and you're going to have someone to support that leader. And that's how I look at it. I take [his comments] in a positive way. Everybody needs someone who's willing to take that step below, just for the sake of not competing on the same level, because sometimes it doesn't benefit the overall team. As long as you can have certain roles, and people fill those roles, the team is going to prosper from that....
"I still think you need a Michael Jordan, you need that guy who's going to take that big shot, that's going to give the team confidence. And you need a guy like Scottie Pippen, who is not on the high end of that vocal leader, but he's not that far off of it."
On the league and the game:
"For so long, the league was at this high pinnacle, because of so many great stars, mature stars. Now the league is a lot younger, and it's going to take time for them to get themselves back up to that pinnacle, if they can get back up to that point. I'm not guaranteeing that it will. I think it's going to take a different direction, but it's going to sustain."