Michael Jordan holds court again -- in IMAX


January 28, 2001|By Dan Fesperman | Dan Fesperman,SUN STAFF

Pro basketball hasn't been the same since he left. It has become the province of erratic and overpaid 19-year-olds, spoiled turnover machines who can't shoot, can't play defense, can't get along with teammates and coaches. Or maybe it just seems that way because he's gone, leaving a gap no one could possibly fill.

With a lament like that we could only be talking about Michael Jordan, which may explain why "Michael Jordan to the Max" has been a box-office hit at IMAX theaters around the country.

The 40-plus-minute film, which opened for the first time at the Maryland Science Center this weekend, features Jordan looming as large as a dinosaur (we miss them, too, of course), almost making it seem as if he never stepped off the court.

To some people around here, Jordan might seem like stale news. After all, he retired after the 1998 season, and now he's just another NBA front office guy, running the miserable Washington Wizards.

But don't tell that to your children and expect to get away with it. In the latest readers poll by Sports Illustrated for Kids, young voters named Jordan their "favorite male athlete" for the sixth consecutive year, beating out Tiger Woods, Ken Griffey Jr., Vince Carter and Kobe Bryant. Not bad for a guy who hasn't scored a point since his last-second jump shot won the NBA title three years ago for the Chicago Bulls.

The IMAX film is built around that final title run, climaxing with that particular shot. It's a pretty compelling plot line -- the last hurrah, with plenty of ups and downs, culminating in one of the most dramatic exits ever seen in sports. But one can't help wishing that the IMAX people had gotten the idea about 12 years earlier. Even though Jordan remained the best player in the game to his final buzzer, the younger version was more spectacular, worth the price of a ticket even when his teams were so weak they barely made the playoffs.

On the other hand, the film may show better than any medium yet what it was that made Jordan the best. It was not just the acrobatics, the hang time, the fadeaway jump shot or the six championships in the pros and the one in college at North Carolina. It was all those other things, too -- the passes, the steals, the blocks and the ball fakes -- and the IMAX film shows those in such full-blown intensity that we can't help but notice their power.

In one small but telling shot, a slow-motion ball fake fools the cameraman, who, in moving his lens to capture a pass that never came, picked up a priceless shot of Jordan's two defenders also reeling, heads turning, leaving Jordan free to make his next move.

Basketball junkies will love it, but so will people who are suckers for a happy, storybook ending. And for 40 minutes or so, you can pretend that he never left.

"Michael Jordan to the Max" plays several times daily at the Maryland Science Center, 601 Light St. at Key Highway. Admission is included in center admission during regular hours; separate admission for nighttime showings. Call 410-685-5225.

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