In time, talent will return Jordan to rare air

ON THE NBA

March 21, 1995|By JERRY BEMBRY

So he's not Superman. He can't jump into a phone booth, switch from a baseball uniform to a basketball uniform, and dominate. Yet.

Michael Jordan's performance may have been subpar Sunday in his return after nearly two seasons off, but it will be only a matter of time before he's back to his unstoppable self. He sure wasn't bashful, jacking up 28 shots while playing 43 minutes in his debut.

Jordan's return raises many questions:

* If the Chicago Bulls win another couple of championships and Jordan wins a few more Most Valuable Player awards, does No. 45 get retired as well?

* Will kids trade in their No. 23 jerseys for the new shirt?

* Are the New York Knicks, who have never beaten a Jordan-led Bulls team in the playoffs, fearful of playing Chicago in the first round, which would happen if the season ended today?

* If Jordan comes back next season, and demands a contract based on his fair-market value, just how much would that be?

It's interesting that Jordan returned to play his first game in Indianapolis, and not at home against the Orlando Magic. The logic is simple. Jordan knew there would be a great deal of rust after his long layoff, and he wants to be at the top of his game before the home fans and against the upstart Magic on Friday night.

With Sunday's game and tomorrow night's game in Boston, Jordan can get acclimated.

The atmosphere in Chicago will equal or even surpass the spectacle in Indianapolis on Sunday. The Bulls have complained about a lack of atmosphere at the new United Center this season. There will be no such problem Friday.

Allegations mar Lewis event

A visit by Jordan and the Bulls aside, tomorrow was supposed to be a special evening at the Boston Garden. The number worn by former Dunbar High and Boston Celtics star Reggie Lewis will be retired.

Yet that evening has been marred by a March 9 article in the Wall Street Journal that implied cocaine use contributed to Lewis' death in 1993, and an article yesterday in which a friend said that Lewis indeed had snorted cocaine.

Tomorrow already has been declared Reggie Lewis Day in Boston, and today a telethon is being held to benefit the Reggie Lewis Foundation.

Regardless of Lewis' alleged actions off the court, hopefully the event will help everyone remember his accomplishments on the court, and his many charitable contributions off it.

Jordan holds court

After Sunday's game, Jordan made a telling comment in which he credited Magic Johnson and Larry Bird with paving the way for today's young NBA stars.

"These young guys aren't taking care of their responsibilities, in terms of maintaining their love for the game," Jordan said. "We're being treated like lawyers and doctors because of the tremendous amounts of money we're paid. So act like sensible people and do the job you're asked to do. . . ."

And don't make ignorant comments like Derrick Coleman did last week when he called Utah Jazz forward Karl Malone an "Uncle Tom" and a "fake."

It seems that Coleman was unhappy earlier this season when Malone described Coleman as the more talented player of the two, but one who could lead the Nets "to the playoffs or the lottery with his attitude."

Coleman's response at that time: "If you want to find out who the best power forward is, let's go one-on-one."

True, Coleman has talent. But as long as he scores 20 points and grabs 10 rebounds per night, he has done his share, he says. It's his teammates who have to pick up the slack.

Meanwhile, Malone has carried a Utah team that outside of Malone and John Stockton doesn't appear to be that impressive to the third-best record in the league, with Malone's 26.3 points and 10.2 rebounds leading the way.

"Karl Malone plays hard and he plays hurt," Utah coach Jerry Sloan said. "He has missed four games in 11 years. I guess you can ask how many games Derrick Coleman has missed with ingrown toenails or whatever."

Malone scored 29 points and grabbed 18 rebounds against the Nets on Friday. Coleman had 17 points and 17 rebounds. The Jazz won the game. There's nothing fake about that.

Spurs will miss Rodman

The San Antonio Spurs will go only as far as Dennis Rodman takes them, and, in a season when he has of late been on his best behavior, you waited for the crackup. Would Rodman get suspended for hurting an opponent? Would Rodman go AWOL? Would Rodman break the rules?

No, Dennis "Easy Rider" Rodman got hurt in a motorcycle accident Sunday. Rodman hit the brakes suddenly as he approached a stop sign, and lost control of his bike. He separated his right shoulder, which will keep him out two to four weeks.

"I'm fine. I'm always fine," Rodman said last night. "Just a little bump and bruise here, that's about it.

But with a month left in the season, the injury could be costly to the Spurs, who beat Seattle, 104-96, last night for their fourth straight win. San Antonio is 9-2 in its past 11 games.

Rodman, who leads the league in rebounding with 17.4 per game, began his rehabilitation yesterday and doctors are optimistic that his excellent physical condition will speed his recovery. When he returns, maybe the team should provide him with a car. And a driver. And an escort.

He might be strange, but the Spurs have an excellent chance of winning the title with Rodman and no chance without him. They have gone 35-9 with Rodman, 10-9 without him.

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