Wizards win, but it does no good

Despite 91-87 victory over Heat, playoff hopes ended by Bucks, Magic

Pro Basketball

April 12, 2003|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

MIAMI - On the night on which Michael Jordan realized his storied career would end without a postseason appearance, his nemesis, Pat Riley, tossed him an emotional salve and it did the trick - for a little while, at least.

Jordan's team, the Washington Wizards, beat Riley's team, the Miami Heat, 91-87, last night, just as always seemed to happen in Jordan's prime. However, the Wizards were formally knocked out of the Eastern Conference playoff race as both the Orlando Magic and Milwaukee Bucks won their games last night.

But in the middle of the hurt, Jordan found some solace, thanks to the remarkable tribute Riley and the Heat paid him in his final appearance.

In a highly unusual move, the Heat introduced its starters first, then ran a lengthy video clip of Jordan highlights. Then Riley took the microphone to announce the Heat would retire Jordan's No. 23, as a replica montage jersey of the colors he wore in Chicago and Washington was unveiled.

After the game, few, including Jordan, could remember such a lavish honor being bestowed on a competitor.

"By far, this was the best gift I ever could have gotten, to have your jersey retired in someone else's building," said Jordan, who finished with 25 points. "That says a lot about him [Riley]. He's such a competitor. We've had so many battles, with me playing against his team. It's a class act and I take it like that. That makes it something very, very special."

Said Washington guard Larry Hughes: "[Last night] was crazy. You'll probably never see that again. Somebody's jersey being retired in somebody else's home? That's crazy. That's a tribute to what he's done."

Riley said he and team owner Micky Arison discussed the gesture about a month ago as an offer of goodwill.

"Having our guys walk onto the court and look up to see how high you have to climb to reach what he has achieved is something that I think is honorable," said Riley.

"I just believe that he deserves it. The guy has been the greatest player in the history of the game, and I think it wouldn't be a bad idea for every team in the league to hang his number in the rafters as a reminder of what greatness is all about."

The largest indoor crowd in South Florida history, 20,152, saw Jordan draw on his storied past with 23 points in the first half. The Wizards needed every one of those points, with leading scorer Jerry Stackhouse taking himself out of the game beforehand with tendinitis in his knee.

In addition, the Wizards got big contributions from Hughes, who had 13 points off the bench in his first action in nearly two weeks, as well as Kwame Brown and Christian Laettner, who had 12 and 13 points, respectively. Brown had 10 rebounds, while Laettner had eight rebounds and six assists.

The Wizards knew during the game that Milwaukee clinched a playoff spot with a 105-103 win over the Toronto Raptors, and their hopes were pinned to the Orlando Magic, which was playing the Indiana Pacers last night.

The Wizards could have gotten the eighth spot if the Magic had lost the rest of the way, with Washington winning the rest of its games, but Orlando ruined that chance by coming from 15 down to beat the Pacers.

That means next Wednesday's game in Philadelphia will be the final one for Jordan, who will leave the NBA with six titles, but without a playoff appearance in his two seasons in Washington.

Yet, Jordan wasn't willing to call his time with the Wizards a failure.

"This is disappointing," he said. "Hopefully, we can see the long-term value, but everybody is going to look at the short term of it and see that we didn't make the playoffs. But we're going to be a better team and organization because of it. The playoffs would have been great. I think we still have a good base."

Said Washington coach Doug Collins: "I was hoping that we could get in the playoffs. It makes me sad to think that ... Michael Jordan will only have three more games left in his career. That makes me sad. I started my playing career in Philadelphia and he's going to end it there."

Wizards tonight

Opponent:Atlanta Hawks

Site:MCI Center, Washington

Time:7

TV/Radio:Ch. 50/WTEM (980 AM)

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