Jordan tells Chicago goodbye, but Bulls get last word, 104-97

Wizard follows ovation with 11-point outing in first loss to former team

January 25, 2003|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

CHICAGO - There was 13 years' worth of pent-up emotion waiting for Michael Jordan at the United Center last night, and he really didn't want any of it.

In what is presumed to be the last game that he will play in the city he put on the basketball map, Jordan reluctantly accepted a four-minute pre-game ovation before grabbing a microphone and, in a sense, asking the crowd to stop and let him play one final time.

Given how poorly he and the Washington Wizards played, Jordan perhaps should have let the crowd keep cheering, to forestall the 104-97 loss the Chicago Bulls hung on him - the first time Chicago has beaten Jordan since he returned to the NBA last season.

"I wanted it [the ovation] to be really short, and get it over with. But the fans obviously had different things in mind," said Jordan. "I felt that if I said something, basically, they could cut the lights out and get into the game.

"It ended well. I'm pretty sure it could have gone longer, but I'm glad for the ovation that they gave me. Believe me, I feel proud that I represented them over the years. They inspired me for many years. They gave me a great appreciation and I feel the same for them."

Jordan, clearly embarrassed and egged on by his teammates, smiled sheepishly, clapped his hands, as if to move things along, then waved a few times, before being handed a microphone to thank the fans who watched him lead the Bulls to six championships.

"It's truly been a pleasure," said Jordan to the sellout crowd of 23,215. "I love you all. Still support the Chicago Bulls. Thank you for all the support throughout the years. Thank you."

But the Bulls (16-27) ruined the party, dropping the Wizards (21-22) under .500 for the first time in three weeks, as Washington lost its second straight and third in the past four games.

"This was the best of both worlds, if you're a Chicago fan," said Jalen Rose, who had 11 points. "Jordan's last game means a lot to the city and to the fans. Fortunately, we were able to combat everything and get a victory."

Chicago reserve forward Marcus Fizer personally destroyed Washington in the fourth quarter, outscoring the Wizards 11-4 to start the period, helping the Bulls to a 56-22 advantage in bench scoring. Couple that with their 48-26 edge in points in the paint and it is a recipe primed to give Washington coach Doug Collins heartburn.

"Somebody asked me before the game, what was I worried about and I said Marcus Fizer," said Collins. "I looked at the halftime stats and Marcus Fizer had zero points and Jalen Rose was 1-for-10. And we were behind nine. We let their bench come in and really hurt us."

Jerry Stackhouse led all scorers with 23 points, as well as 10 assists, while Christian Laettner had a season-high 21 points.

Jordan, meanwhile, didn't exactly turn in a vintage performance, scoring just 11 points, on 4-for-14 shooting, though he did contribute five rebounds, drawing one final ovation with 8.1 seconds left when Collins lifted him for Bobby Simmons.

The Wizards nearly made up an 11-point fourth-quarter deficit, drawing to within 97-95 with 1:46 left, when Jordan hit two free throws to cap an 8-0 run.

However, Fizer scored on a lay-in with 1:25 left, collecting a loose ball after Washington appeared to have a steal. Stackhouse missed a jumper with 1:09 remaining, and after the Wizards got a stop, Larry Hughes missed on a drive with less than 30 seconds to play.

Fizer, who scored all 18 of his points in the fourth quarter, hit one of two free throws, and the game was effectively over.

Jordan said the pre-game build-up and media onslaught here didn't affect him, but he looked relieved after the game to have this moment in his rearview mirror.

"I'm glad that this is over with. We both had a chance to say goodbye, and now let's move on for the rest of the season and move on in life, in a certain sense. I still will be here in Chicago and my heart always is here. I like coming back."

Said Collins: "It's done. When this season is over, mentally, he's going to say I don't have anything left to fight these young guys any more. I respect him so much. Every time he goes out to play, he sees other guys' best hands. He never walks away from a challenge and I have the ultimate respect for that. I respect our team. We could have rolled over tonight. We just couldn't get over the hump."

NOTE: Jordan shot down a published report that he might leave the Wizards' organization after next season, when he is slated to return to the front office, to join the new Charlotte franchise, where he would reportedly play one season before joining the front office.

"Don't believe everything you read," Jordan said.

Wizards tonight

Opponent:Minnesota Timberwolves

Site:MCI Center, Washington

Time:7

TV/Radio:Comcast SportsNet/WTEM (980 AM)

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