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Surprise guest Michael Jordan can relate to Derek Jeter on his retirement ceremony

Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter greets Michael Jordan during

Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter greets Michael Jordan during in ceremony honoring him on Derek Jeter Day before a game against the Kansas City Royals at Yankee Stadium on Sunday, Sept. 7, 2014. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

All week long, people who know Derek Jeter were asked how they thought the Yankees' captain would feel on the day of his retirement ceremony.

Many answered. No one knew.

It turns out there was someone at Yankee Stadium yesterday who is one of only a few people on the planet who can understand what Jeter is going through.

That person is three-time NBA retiree Michael Jordan, Jeter's Nike pal and a surprise guest at Sunday's otherwise pro forma retirement party.

Jordan's appearance as one of three unannounced guests (along with Cal Ripken Jr. and Dave Winfield) was the highlight of a ceremony that was heartfelt but lacked the true emotional heft of, say, Mariano Rivera's final game at Yankee Stadium last September.

The moment when Rivera sobbed on the mound while hugging Jeter and Andy Pettitte was memorable because it wasn't scripted.

Sunday's ceremony was classy, as expected, and Jeter's speech was polished and polite as he thanked the Steinbrenners, his managers and teammates and Yankees fans. But it was hardly as memorable as Jeter's speech at the closing of old Yankee Stadium in 2008.

Maybe that's because Jeter, like many great athletes, is not at his best when talking about himself.

Jeter spoke for about three minutes. The fans, wanting the moment to continue, chanted "De-rek Je-ter" and probably would have gone on all afternoon if he hadn't stepped in.

Jeter, with microphone still in hand, said, "We've got a game to play," and that was it.

Moment over.

As much as anything he did or said Sunday, that was pure Jeter. The Yankees had a game to play and, in Jeter's mind, a World Series title to chase.

Jeter likely will retire with five championships; Sunday's 2-0 letdown loss to the Royals didn't help the team's dwindling playoff chances.

The team still can't hit. Joe Girardi would have been better off using 51-year-old one-time minor-league baseball player Jordan as the DH instead of .159-hitting Stephen Drew, who struck out to end the game.

Jeter went 1-for-3 (infield single) with a walk. As Jordan pointed out, baseball is not basketball. As mythical as he has become in his final season, even Jeter never has actually willed the Yankees to victory. A shooting guard can take over a game. A shortstop can't.

Jordan won six NBA titles with the Bulls. "He constantly reminds me that he has six and I have five," Jeter said.

A former villain in New York, Jordan received one of the loudest ovations when his snappily attired 6-6 frame left the Yankees' dugout and he walked over to embrace Jeter.

Later, His Airness talked about first meeting Jeter in 1994 when they played against each other in the Arizona Fall League during Jordan's still- hard-to-believe-he-did-it baseball career. Jordan was 31 and in the first of his retirements. Jeter was 20 and two years away from his first full big-league season.

"I was fascinated with the way that he played," Jordan said.

"I was a student watching him. He was a great teacher. He was a great educator just by watching the way he prepared himself."

"I obviously could see he was good at an early age, and his success followed that . . . Winning thrives on great leadership. I think he's a great leader."

Jordan, who was hardly a choirboy during his playing days, also expressed admiration for Jeter's ability to keep the focus mostly on the field.

"Being in this city of New York, where one little hiccup basically can fry your personality, and this kid's done everything the right way," Jordan said. "He's done it in a way that no one can criticize anything that he's done in this environment over a 20-year career. I truly admire that."

Said Jeter: "He is like the older brother I never had. We have plenty of conversations about competing, about life. I saw that he was in town and I thought maybe something was up. It was great that he could be a part of it because I've learned quite a bit from him."

So exactly how did Jeter feel Sunday? Grateful for the affection but probably more ticked off about the loss.

Just like Mike.

New York Sports