Locally, a hollow feeling at lunch

Game won't be the same, fans say, and not just because of Jordan's feats

January 14, 1999|By Christopher Yasiejko | Christopher Yasiejko,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

The direct impact is less obvious here, halfway across the country from what has been the epicenter of the NBA during the past 13 seasons. But in Chicago, yesterday was a day of mourning as Michael Jordan announced his retirement.

However, though there was no sobbing among the folks who watched Jordan's televised news conference at the ESPN Zone at the Inner Harbor, his departure left impressions on young and old alike.

At noon, while a tardy Jordan allowed the media at the United Center one last bit of anticipation, Edward Nottingham sat in a plush leather chair in the front row of the screening room at the ESPN Zone.

Beneath the 12-by-16-foot projection screen that broadcast the announcement, he was waiting for his buffalo wings to arrive.

"I think the NBA is seriously going to hurt," said Nottingham, 32, of Baltimore. "You saw what happened during the lockout: People could care less about the NBA; they care about Michael Jordan.

"For other players, it makes it easier to win a ring. It should be made of Duralite. It's tarnished."

Nottingham, an architect on his lunch break, remembered going to a Washington-Chicago game at which more fans rooted for Jordan than the Bullets.

He also said he canceled his NBA satellite subscription as soon as he heard of Jordan's retirement.

"I've got a collection of his games on video. From now on, I'll be watching them."

Nottingham likened Chicago's reaction to Jordan's announce- ment to Baltimore's inevitable goodbye to Cal Ripken.

"Only with Jordan," he said, speaking of championships, "it's six times as hard."

In the dining room, Patrick Dearchs, 11, sat with his dad as Jordan said: "I think the game itself is bigger than Michael Jordan." Patrick, a sixth-grader, is a 5-foot guard/forward for the Loyola Middle School basketball team.

He likes the Bulls and Jordan -- "He makes it happen" -- but he pays more attention to the Maryland Terrapins these days.

As far as his favorite NBA team's future goes: "I'm sure they're not going to win," he said. But he nominated the Terps' Steve Francis as Jordan's possible heir.

Dearchs' father, Ray, 43, said Jordan carried all the qualities he'd like his son to have.

"There's not a lot Michael does that doesn't involve money, but it's on the back burner," the elder Dearchs said. "He's always been classy and considerate."

Sitting at a nearby table were Kirk Tarter and Dean Havjis, co-workers at Klacik & Associates, an accounting consulting firm. Both are Baltimore natives.

Neither could see another player replacing Jordan.

"He brought a certain appeal to the game," said Tarter, 35. "It'll be about 40 or 50 years before a Jordanesque player comes along.

Havjis, 24, likes Jordan, but is a Lakers fan. "He's the one who filled the seats when the Clippers played," he dead-panned.

Tarter remembered his favorite Jordan moment.

"Two years ago, when he played in the finals with a 102-degree fever and still had 30-some-odd points, that amazed me. I once had a 104-degree fever and could hardly get out of bed.

"When he did that, that sealed it for me that this guy is the greatest basketball player ever to walk this earth."

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