Jordan up, down in Wizards' loss

8 points in 16 minutes are touched with rust

Pro Basketball

October 12, 2001|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. - As the Washington Wizards walked onto the court at The Palace last night, the theme from an old television show was piped in to welcome Michael Jordan back to the NBA. Many of those who made it in from the rain and the massive traffic jam outside shouted his name and took his picture.

It was as if they had stepped into a time warp and, in some ways, they had.

They saw the home team, the Detroit Pistons, in the familiar red, white and blue uniforms that the infamous "Bad Boys" wore during the championship years. And they saw an old nemesis, Jordan, in uniform for the first time in three seasons and in one belonging to a team other than the Chicago Bulls.

As far as Jordan was concerned, the trip here for his new team's first pre-season game was both encouraging and enlightening. The 38-year-old legend showed snippets of his former self, but so did the Wizards of theirs in a 95-85 defeat to the Pistons.

After saying he would sit out Washington's first two exhibition games, then changing his mind, but adding that he would only play limited time, Jordan wound up on the court for 16 minutes in the first half, finishing with eight points on 4-for-8 shooting to go along with three rebounds.

Jordan showed he was in better shape than he might have thought coming out of the team's training camp in Wilmington, N.C., but he also exhibited some rust on his once dominant game. He looked sharp at times, but also like a player making a comeback at an age when others are happy playing golf.

"I sort of surprised myself - my energy level was pretty good in the first quarter. I thought I was OK," Jordan said after playing his first NBA game since Game 6 of the 1998 Finals. "I still have improvement in terms of my wind. My legs are coming back. I'm on schedule."

Jordan wasn't the only Wizard to look his age at times.

So did Kwame Brown, the 19-year-old high school player who was the first player taken in the June draft. Early on, Brown looked overmatched against players who would never be confused with Karl Malone, finishing with nearly as many fouls (five) as points (six) in 22 minutes.

"It was horrible," said Brown, who picked up three early fouls and didn't settle down until late in the second half. "I was too nervous and I was rushing. Michael kept reiterating to me, `Slow down, slow down.' There's only one first game and there's only one rookie year. Hopefully it'll be better next time."

There was an almost surreal atmosphere surrounding the game. Jordan has never been very popular here, dating to the heated playoff battles between the Bulls and Pistons. But there he was being cheered by the fans before the game and pleading with new Wizards coach Doug Collins to put him back in later on.

"It's a great sense of respect," said Jordan, who wound up playing about eight minutes longer than Collins planned to use him. "They're very loyal to their team, but it inspires me to do my job as a basketball player."

Seeing Jordan again inspired the Pistons, particularly Jerry Stackhouse. A former North Carolina star, like Jordan, Stackhouse is now an All-Star in his own right and showed that last night, leading the Pistons with a game-high 30 points. Richard Hamilton led Washington with 24 points.

"It was kind of different," Stackhouse said of the reception Jordan got as a visiting player. "I think everybody, including the players, came to see how Michael would do."

It didn't take long. On Detroit's first possession, he switched off Corliss Williamson and swatted a shot past former Wizard Ben Wallace out of bounds. After his first shot, Jordan made his next two by taking the 245-pound Williamson outside and hitting his patented fadeaway.

But at times Jordan looked human, if that's possible. He got blocked by former Wizard Ben Wallace going up for a dunk. He took a backdoor alley-oop from Courtney Alexander and tipped it in instead of dunking the ball. He was even called for a carry.

Said Collins: "Let's give him four or five more weeks before he gets where he wants to be. He'll tell you that he's where he expected to be, and he's three or four weeks away from where he wants to go."

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