For MVP Jordan, cup only half full 5th award nice, but title No. 1 priority

May 19, 1998|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,SUN STAFF

CHICAGO -- Yesterday should have been cause for celebration for Michael Jordan. Yet after receiving word he had won the NBA's Most Valuable Player Award, the Chicago Bulls guard would not be sidetracked from the task at hand.

"The ultimate goal is to win the sixth championship," Jordan said. "I think we're in the middle of that, and I think we will accomplish that. And this accolade, it will not be cherished until we accomplish that sixth championship."

If that sixth title comes next month, maybe Jordan will appreciate becoming just the third player in NBA history to win the award five times, joining Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (six) and Bill Russell (five).

Jordan received 1,084 points, including 92 of the 115 first-place votes, in a season in which the 6-foot-6 shooting guard averaged 28.7 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.72 steals.

He led the NBA in scoring for a record 10th season and scored 2,000 or more points for a record-tying 11th time.

Finishing the regular season with 29,277 career points, Jordan moved into third place on the NBA's all-time scoring list.

Utah Jazz forward Karl Malone, last year's MVP, finished second with 842 points (20 first-place votes). Seattle SuperSonics guard Gary Payton (431 points), Los Angeles Lakers center Shaquille O'Neal (311 points) and San Antonio Spurs rookie forward Tim Duncan (148 points) rounded out the top five.

Washington Wizards guard Rod Strickland (one point) was one of 19 players to receive at least one vote.

Russell, the longtime Boston Celtics great who won 11 NBA titles, came to town to present the award to Jordan.

"Over the last year and a half I've been asked who's the best player. It was never a question to me, because I never thought about who was the best player," Russell said to Jordan. "But I will just say this about you: I just cannot imagine anybody playing it better than you do."

Yesterday's award comes a decade after Jordan won his first MVP award, in 1988, the only one of his previous four awards that is not tied to an NBA title.

"I'd like to think my reason for winning this award is my consistency, to constantly step on the court each and every night and be a threat, force teams to double- and triple-team me," Jordan said.

Jordan, who tends to dominate games today with his jump shot, is still capable of turning it on when he has to. In Sunday's opener of the Eastern Conference finals against the Indiana Pacers, he scored 25 of his 31 points in the second half after shooting 1-for-9 in the first half.

"He can use a limited amount of energy and find a way to still have an influence on the game and still keep his teammates involved," Chicago coach Phil Jackson said after practice yesterday in preparation for tonight's Game 2.

As usual, Jordan was asked about retirement.

"At this particular time, I still consider myself to be learning the game," he said.

"So when the time comes, certainly a decision has to be made. If I still love to play the game, I certainly will continue to play the game."

At one point during the presentation, Russell suggested that the only regret Jordan had was not playing for the Celtics. When pressed on that comment later, Russell said he was joking.

"If he played with the Celtics, he would have been in a line of tradition," Russell said. "Here, he created his own tradition.

"The day I arrived at Boston Garden the first time, there was not one banner hanging," Russell added. "Michael came here, and he's responsible for all the banners. That's a tribute to him."

Pub Date: 5/19/98

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