WASHINGTON -- "Where was Michael?" was the big question in the White House Rose Garden yesterday. Or, to put it more bluntly, how come Air Jordan stiffed the president of the United States?
How come one of the best known professional athletes in the world didn't show up to meet one of the world's best known amateurs? Where was the most famous Chicago Bull when President Bush honored the NBA champions? Good question.
No one would say exactly why Michael Jordan didn't come to the party, but this much is known: A lot of people, big shots and little shots alike, were crushed.
"It was a personal choice," Bulls coach Phil Jackson said, explaining Jordan's absence. Scottie Pippen dropped back on defense when asked about his teammate's disappearing act: "I don't do interviews."
"We haven't been able to contact him all summer," Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf told the Chicago Sun-Times, an interesting admission considering that Jordan was seen nationwide a few days before as guest host of the television show "Saturday Night Live."
"We don't know. His wife doesn't know," said one senior White House official, a Boston Celtics fan, when asked about Jordan's whereabouts.
Among those disappointed by the no-show was White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater. "We were all dying to meet him," he said.
"I came here to see my man Michael," said Bob Grady, a senior budget official and sports enthusiast. So did Rafi Vazquez, 7, whose battered (but expensive) Air Jordan high-top sneakers left no doubt who his hero was.
If Jordan was making a political statement by not showing up at the White House, it was hard to nail down. Jordan has not been publicly critical of the Bush administration.
Last week, when asked if he'd be at the White House, Jordan ducked the question, instead saying that he wished the event had been held a little closer to the date (June 12, Bush's 67th birthday, incidentally) when the Bulls actually won the NBA championship.
The White House let it be known that it was the Bulls who kept putting off the Rose Garden ceremony because of scheduling problems.
For the record, Jordan has been AWOL before. In 1988, he skipped a ceremony where he was to have been named the NBA's Most Valuable Player for the first time. Jordan played golf instead -- an excuse Bush and Vice President Dan Quayle surely would have understood.