There are three guys, any time I see them, I pay homage to — Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, who saved the NBA and took it to an incredible level, and Michael Jordan. We all know Michael Jordan was the greatest basketball player ever. I was blessed to play in his era.

Reinsdorf, private moment

The most recent private moment was about a year ago. We were at an NBA (owners) meeting and Michael came over to me and said, ''I owe you a lot of apologies. It's a lot harder to run a team than I thought.''

Kenny Smith, TNT analyst and longtime opponent

To me, he was the first athlete who had great fundamentals. … The first guy who had his correct hand in the passing lane, had the correct footwork and was a super athlete. Most super athletes depend on the fact they can jump over you and run by you. He took it technical. All of a sudden he became the most dangerous man alive.

Steve Smith, TNT analyst and longtime opponent

Being a shooting guard, I tried to get him in foul trouble. There was nothing I could really do except try and beat him up at the post. He was the greatest ever.

David Axelrod, former senior adviser to President Barack Obama and Bulls season ticket holder since 1976

In 1997, the Bulls were playing Utah in the NBA Finals, and the series was tied 2-2. Deedee Corradini, the mayor of Salt Lake City, was a client of mine and offered me two tickets to the crucial Game 5. They were in the upper deck. Having come all that way, a buddy and I decided to trade in the comps and upgrade. We found a broker and paid a usurious $1,200 a ticket for seats five rows from the court. We figured, Michael, Game 5 … why not go all the way? I called my wife, Susan, to check in before the game (and she said he was sick and might not play). ... I looked at the ticket I had in my hand and began feeling ill myself. … To my relief, when we reached our gold-plated seats, a sickly Michael was on the floor. … Michael started off slowly, clearly dragging. … But in the second quarter, with the Bulls trailing, his legendary competitiveness took hold. In the second half, the pattern repeated: Michael dragged. Then, with the game on the line, he shifted into another gear. In the end, the flu-bitten Michael would score an astonishing 38 points, including a 3-pointer to clinch the game, before famously slumping into Scottie Pippen's arms. An artist friend later gave me a charcoal painting of that scene. … a lasting memory of the day Michael saved the Bulls, and the ass of a die-hard fan who paid way too much for a ticket.

Tom Thibodeau, Bulls coach and former Knicks assistant during playoff battles

He caused me a lot of pain. And I always thought, ''I wish I could be on that side.''

Charles Oakley, former teammate

I just remember the hard work he did during the offseason to get ready for the season. A lot of people were amazed at what he did on the court. I've seen it so many times so it didn't amaze me. I saw it in practices.

Steve Kerr, former teammate

When's he coming back? Didn't he say he was going to keep playing when he was 50? No, it's so hard to even describe Michael. I get asked all the time about the show he put on and the spell he cast over the rest of the league, the intimidation over his opponents, the sheer will that lifted our whole team, the determination in every practice to make it into a fierce competition. I've never seen anybody like him. And I don't think I ever will again.

Tim Hallam, Bulls media relations chief in his 36th season

My favorite memories are not one specific game or statistic. As you get older and begin to reflect, it was those times sitting with him in all the different weird nooks and crannies of the visiting locker rooms and stadiums that he secluded himself in before the game just so he could have some peace of mind. You were listening to what the greatest, most cherished player ever to play the game had on his mind at those given moments far away from the madness of being Michael Jordan.

Johnny Bach, former Bulls assistant coach

I asked him one time why he so openly would challenge people. He said, ''Johnny, it's just part of me. I can't help it."

Doc Rivers, Celtics coach and longtime opponent