Ronaldo at Real Valladolid: Inside Brazilian legend’s reinvention

In the summer of 1999, at the Nike headquarters in Beaverton, Ore., two galácticos of their respective sports met for the first time. Michael Jordan was 36, a year removed from winning his sixth and final NBA title. Ronaldo was 22, already a two-time world player of the year and making a case as the most feared striker in history. More than two decades later, Ronaldo can’t help but smile at what His Airness shared with him that day. “He said to me, ‘You are the Michael Jordan for soccer,’ ” Ronaldo recalls. “I was like, ‘Whoa, that’s a big compliment.’ ”

When Zeus invites you to Mount Olympus, you accept. And Ronaldo fit the part. At the height of his powers he mass-produced goals with breathtaking force, faster-with-the-ball-than-without-it speed and Promethean skill. These days, a cottage industry of social media videos devoted to 1990s soccer ensures the modern generation will see Ronaldo’s greatest hits. At least one 44-year-old Brazilian indulges, too. “I love to watch all of them,” says Ronaldo, “but there is one I love the most. Some guy made a video with me doing 256 caños”—nutmegs—“in my career. I can’t even remember that I did so many!”

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