On deck: midseason change in NBA's balance of power Anticipation of Jordan's return fills air

March 11, 1995|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,Sun Staff Writer Kiah Stokes contributed to this article.

On the basketball court, he was perhaps the best player ever. On the baseball field, he was maybe the best-known player to never reach the big leagues.

Now, Michael Jordan finds himself without a sport to play -- though there are signs that his layoff won't last too long.

Jordan's heralded baseball career ended yesterday, as the former Chicago White Sox minor-leaguer released a statement saying that the baseball strike has "made it increasingly difficult to continue my development at a rate that meets my standard."

And there are widespread reports that Jordan already has decided to resume his basketball career with the Chicago Bulls in several weeks.

Jordan left the White Sox's training camp in Sarasota, Fla., earlier this week, and spent Wednesday and Thursday practicing with the Bulls at their facility in Deerfield, Ill.

No one with the Bulls' organization has said that Jordan will return, but nobody is issuing denials and several sounded as if the return was inevitable.

"He needed the opportunity this year to get better and the window was closing too quickly and he decided it wasn't going to happen for him," Bulls coach Phil Jackson said yesterday of Jordan's 18-month baseball career. "He did not fail baseball. Baseball failed him, I think.

"It means Michael has the opportunity to come back and play basketball without baseball being the dream that he's been holding on for," Jackson added. "Michael is going to calculate and do what he has to come back to basketball if there is an opportunity for him."

Jordan had just finished leading the Bulls to three straight NBA titles when he shocked the sports world by announcing his retirement just before the 1993-94 season, saying there were no more challenges left in the game for him.

Should he return, Jordan definitely would find a challenge with a Bulls team that is 31-30.

Would he be good enough to help the Bulls upset the balance of power in the Eastern Conference, where the Orlando Magic rules at the moment? Or the league? Odds in Las Vegas on the Bulls winning a championship were 18-1 Wednesday, before the rumors began. Yesterday, those odds had fallen to 6-1.

"Are you kidding? You're talking about Michael Jordan," Washington Bullets forward Calbert Cheaney said before last night's game against the Milwaukee Bucks at the Baltimore Arena. "Once he got back, they would definitely be a contender. I think it would be great for basketball."

Bucks rookie forward Glenn Robinson agreed.

"I hope what they're saying is true because when you come and play M. J., everybody just comes and plays harder," Robinson said. "If he comes back, it's going to be tough to beat Chicago again. With Scottie Pippen, Toni Kukoc, they should be right back in the hunt for the championship."

Jordan's so good, the players agreed, that being away from the sport for a year and a half would have little effect on his play.

"It's hard to say whether they would contend for a championship, but he would have an impact the first game he walked on the court," said Bullets guard Scott Skiles. "I think you would be foolish if you sold Michael Jordan short."

And what do the fans think?

"It would be wonderful," said Lisa Watford, 25, who attended last night's game at the Baltimore Arena. "I was a Chicago fan until he left. It would be great for the sport."

Andy Black, 13, of Pikesville was excited.

"It's awesome! He's cool," Black said. "I'm looking forward to him playing."

Exactly what kind of an impact can a Jordan rumor bring? When speculation began Thursday, the Bullets had 1,000 tickets left for Tuesday's home game against the Bulls.

"The phone started ringing off the hook at about 3 o'clock when the rumor hit -- it was phenomenal," Bullets president Susan O'Malley said.

If he does return -- broadcast reports in Chicago say that Nike has shipped 40 pairs of Air Jordans to the United Center -- it probably won't be for several weeks.

Jordan reportedly wants to sit down with Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf and vice president Jerry Krause to discuss, among other things, the possibility of getting disgruntled forward Scottie Pippen signed.

Even President Clinton is ready take some credit for Jordan's return.

"As of today the economy has produced 6.1 million jobs since I became president," he said yesterday during a news conference announcing a decline in the U.S. jobless rate. "And if Michael Jordan goes back to the Bulls, it'll be 6 million, one hundred thousand and one new jobs."

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