Jordan takes off, leaving Knicks, and many a reporter, in his wake

June 01, 1993|By Bob Verdi | Bob Verdi,Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO -- Owner of Car 54, where are you?

I feel a sense of frustration, staking out a parked car that isn't running in the bowels of Chicago Stadium. A parked car belonging to a superstar who is doing everything but talking about what everybody else is talking about -- himself.

That would be Michael Jordan, of course. He goes out to win a game for the Bulls yesterday and almost scores the speed limit. Jordan scores 54 points against the Knicks, which is why I'm calling it Car 54. I can't call it my own, because the gray Mercedes 600 SEL with tinted windows is a bit out of my price range.

"Top of the line," someone says. "You couldn't afford to buy the wheels."

"The wheels?" I say. "The hood ornament is twice my net worth."

"Speaking of hood ornaments," he says, "what are you doing?"

"Can't interview the car, because I don't speak German," I say. "I'm waiting for Michael."

So is all of Chicago this holiday afternoon. He arrives, unsafe at any speed for the Knicks, and just in time for the Bulls. In Games 1 and 2 of the NBA Eastern Conference finals at New York, his shooting is slightly off and the Bulls lose both. In Game 3 here, the Bulls win but he's a decoy and he can't find his car keys afterward. In Game 4 yesterday, though, he puts his foot to the floor, ties the series, and the Knicks wish he'd been locked inside instead of out.

But Michael isn't talking. Not even to NBC, as he did Saturday. He's mad, understandably so, about the casino caper in Atlantic City. It is portrayed as the worst example of poor judgment by a public figure since President Clinton's airport haircut. So Michael, who is having a better year and has the approval ratings to back it, posts a Do Not Disturb sign. Which is why I'm standing here, looking at the most famous motor vehicle since the Batmobile.

"I'll bet Michael's taken off already in a VW Beetle from the other side of the building," says Mike Lupica of the New York Daily News. "This is his decoy."

"No," I say, "the decoy was Saturday."

"Don't you feel stupid?" he says.

"I feel symbolism," I say.

Jordan's automobile, after all, is stationed strategically near the visitor's locker room. Every single member of the Knicks, starting with coach Pat Riley, has to pass that car to leave the building. Every Knick flashes through Michael's rear view mirror, which is just the way he wants it. He doesn't like the Knicks. He doesn't like any team attempting to stall the Bulls' ride toward a third straight NBA championship.

And it shows yesterday. Michael misses here and there early, but soon, he's scoring from everywhere. He forces a few shots, but he will not let the Bulls lose this game.

He'll be under his car before he allows that, reminding one of what his father, James, mentioned the other day. Michael doesn't have a gambling problem. Michael has a competition problem, and being down 1-3 in this tournament would be more than a problem even for Superman. It would feel like Kryptonite.

So Michael puts on a show of shows, and the Knicks have to be thinking now. They're stronger and bigger. Two of the next three games, if necessary, will be in Madison Square Garden, where the Knicks never lose. Moreover, there are no long gaps anymore. The Bulls could run out of gas, right? Or do the Knicks recall what one of their bygone players, Gerald Wilkins, said a year ago regarding Michael? About how, just when you think he's pulling up to stop, he blows the red light?

"Aren't you driving him?" I say to George Kaehler, Jordan's customary chauffeur.

"No," Kaehler says. "Michael's on his own."

Suddenly, the silent Jordan appears, surrounded by a half-dozen yellow-jacketed security guards. Dapper in designer suit, clean as a whistle, yet somber as a judge. He jumps in the driver's seat, the engine roars and the car is off, nose pointed toward an exit ramp. He's gone, while camera crews record the evidence. Tail lights for the 10 o'clock news.

You want real symbolism? When will Michael Jordan, the angry superstar, make this his getaway car, leaving the paparazzi, the Bulls, the NBA, in his exhaust fumes?

Sooner than we think.

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