While watching the TV coverage of the negotiations between the NBA and the Players Association to avert a season-long strike I was struck by the vision of one Michael Jeffrey Jordan.

Jordan, who is now majority owner of the Charlotte Bobcats (i.e., a ‘suit,’ not a player) looks rather, uh, well, he is quite….uh… fat, yes that’s the correct word.

Jordan, the dominant athlete of my lifetime, a global icon, and widely regarded as the greatest basketball player in history, is now fat.

Granted he’s not obese exactly, but seeing His Airness in anything less than perfect physical shape is jarring for someone who watched his entire playing career with fascination and wonderment.

It’s quite normal for athletes to stop training once they retire and gradually settle into the sedentary lifestyle of the middle-aged. When Kirby Puckett and Charles Barkley retired they both ballooned horrendously -- in Kirby’s case, tragically so, since he died prematurely (of a stroke in 2006). However, Puckett and Sir Charles were already chunky even at the peak of their playing careers.

Barkley is now dangerously overweight.

It was also disheartening to see Nolan Ryan -- the great Texas cowboy icon/superman who played an unimaginable 27 seasons in the big leagues, and struck out an unbelievable 5700-plus batters -- become bald and fat as he settled into the life of a prosperous banker-businessman-team owner. However I take some solace from the fact that Nolan is now in his mid-60s and one doesn’t expect someone of that age to maintain the same physique from his youth.

Seeing Ryan with George W. Bush at the box seats of the recent World Series was particularly upsetting -- these two friends are about the same age, but Nolan looked much older than George.

But Jordan is something different. He’s the greatest athlete I have ever seen and the most spectacular basketball player in history. How could the legendary, the infallible No. 23 grow old and fat like a mere mortal??

Michael and I are roughly the same age, and for the first time in my life I can fairly say that I look better than him and (of course) have much more hair than he. (Granted, he would beat the hell out of me on the basketball court, but I’m just talking about outward appearances here).

Apparently, spending all day on the golf links and all night in gambling parlors adds to the pounds, creates double-chins and thick necks.

I’m not the only one who has noticed Jordan’s less-than-svelte figure.

As long as two and half years ago, Reggie Miller, the former Indiana Pacer great, told ESPN: [Jordan] looks good for a retired guy. But he's 30 to 35 pounds overweight.”

If Jordan can succumb to the ravages of age, what hope is there for any of us?

But, conversely, do professional athletes age worse than ordinary people because once they relinquish their punishing workout schedules, they decline more rapidly than the rest of us do?

I shudder to think what Jordan will look like in ten years.

Funny, but I can’t imagine Kobe Bryant (a fanatical workout nut) ever becoming overweight.