CHICAGO -- With a wide smile yesterday, Michael Jordan picked up the NBA's Most Valuable Player award, the fourth of his career. And by the end of the summer, that smile might be even wider if Jordan, who becomes a free agent, is able to get the two-year contract he is seeking.
Jordan very much would like to get from the Chicago Bulls a two-year deal worth $23 million a year -- a figure that would match his uniform number of 23. But he said he would settle for $18 million a year for two years from the Bulls, or even a bargain-basement $10 million less than that if he were to sign with another team.
"I'll go to another team for $10 million less if I have to, just on principle," Jordan told the Chicago Tribune after Sunday's Game 1 victory over the Orlando Magic in the Eastern Conference finals. "They've made a lot of money here, and it's time to give a little back."
The fact that Jordan has made his salary demands known was why he was answering more questions about his contract and fewer about his MVP award that was presented to him by coach Phil Jackson during yesterday's ceremony. The questions had fTC Jordan -- who said he didn't intend to be quoted by the Tribune -- on the defensive.
"To talk about my contract would be a selfish act," Jordan said. "Right now, we're in the process of trying to win a championship. The speculation that was made in the paper was just speculation. My attorneys haven't talked to [Bulls chairman] Jerry Reinsdorf at all."
Never did Jordan deny the numbers that were reported.
"I felt it was bad timing in terms of when it should be published," Jordan said.
Is Jordan, who is 33, worth $36 million over two years? Such a deal would be a bargain in comparison with New York Knicks center Patrick Ewing's $18 million this season, Shaquille O'Neal's possible new $20 million deal and Alonzo Mourning's prospective $15 million a year over six years.
None of those franchise players has a championship ring (Jordan has three). And none has the credentials of Jordan: four MVP awards (third all-time), eight NBA scoring titles and seven times a member of the league's all-defensive team.
"If Jerry Reinsdorf gets off that cheaply, he better sign Michael Jordan as quick as he can," Miami Heat coach Pat Riley said yesterday. "Michael is probably the most underpaid superstar in the history of the game."
Finally, something that Riley and Jackson can agree upon. Jordan, who is making approximately $4 million this season, never has renegotiated a contract and has yet to cash in on the megadeals that have become the norm in the NBA.
"With the kind of salaries I hear bandied about . . . Michael Jordan is the best player in the league and has been for the past 10 years," Jackson said at the ceremony. "Sylvester Stallone is getting $20 million per movie. I don't see why he can't get $20 million per season."
Jordan, who received 109 of the 113 first-place MVP votes, said he hopes he will be pulling down his future paychecks in Chicago, where he has played all of his 11 NBA seasons. But only if Jackson and Scottie Pippen are a part of the team.
"A lot depends on which way the organization wants to move, from Phil Jackson to Scottie Pippen," Jordan said. "I don't want to be a part of rebuilding. If that's something the organization wants to do, fine, I want to be right here in the city of Chicago."
In one of the few instances that Jordan did get a chance to talk about his award, he said it was the most momentous of his four MVP trophies. Only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (six) and Bill Russell (five) have won more.
"It's more meaningful," Jordan said. "I was away from the game a couple of years, and I came back and learned a lesson.
"No matter how long you're away from the game, how great you were, you just can't come back. The game taught a lesson with the disappointing series last year. It forced me to get back into the gym and learn again."
That learning experience helped the Bulls to an NBA-record 72-10 season. Chicago is coming off a 121-83 win over the Magic in Game 1.
Orlando will play tonight without Horace Grant, who suffered a hyperextended left elbow in a collision with O'Neal on Sunday. An exam yesterday revealed no fracture.
"He could be out for an extended period of time," Magic coach Brian Hill said yesterday. "Right now, we just have to step up our game. We played poorly [Sunday]. We were embarrassed."
Grant, who was scoreless and grabbed one rebound in 28 ineffective minutes in Game 1, missed 19 games this season with injuries. Orlando was 10-9 in those games.
Jon Koncak will replace Grant as a starter if the Magic goes with a big lineup, with Donald Royal and Anthony Bonner playing if the team goes small. Whoever plays, the Magic will have to do a better job rebounding, where it was at a 62-28 disadvantage.
"We have to suck it up," said O'Neal, who will miss Grant's rebounding presence. "We're upset. We're embarrassed. But we always respond well to adversity."
The Magic appeared in relatively good spirits after yesterday's practice, saying its worst loss in playoff history was just one game.
"We may have gotten sucked in to all this hysteria about the series," said Koncak. "We have to put that all behind us."
(MVP voting, Page 8D)
Pub Date: 5/21/96
6: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, 1971, 1972, 1974, 1976, 1977, 1980.
5: Bill Russell, 1958, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1965.
4: Michael Jordan, 1988, 1991, 1992, 1996;
Wilt Chamberlain, 1960, 1966, 1967, 1968.
3: Larry Bird, 1984, 1985, 1986;
Magic Johnson, 1987, 1989, 1990.