Third run ends amid an air of discontent

Wizards left at odds within as Jordan makes his leave

April 17, 2003|By Barbara Barker | Barbara Barker,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

PHILADELPHIA -- There was no winning shot, no final heroic to add to Michael Jordan's already jam-packed highlight reel. Rather, one of the most remarkable careers in sports ended in the most unremarkable of fashions in the Washington Wizards' 107-87 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers last night.

Yes, there were some notable moments. The notoriously nasty Philadelphia fans turned the fourth quarter into a Jordan lovefest by chanting, "We want Mike!" for nearly seven minutes to coax him off the bench. There was also a nice, Air-Jordan-like dunk off a pass from Bobby Simmons.

For the most part, Jordan looked like a man who was ready to leave the game. After it, he confirmed that there will not be a third comeback for him.

"I am not going to be in a uniform anymore, and that's not a terrible feeling," Jordan said. "It's something that I have come to grips with, and it's time ... This is the final retirement."

Jordan, 40, leaves behind a staggering list of accomplishments. Among them: six NBA championships, 10 scoring titles, five Most Valuable Player awards and 13 All-Star Game appearances. He also leaves a staggering list of highlights, the biggest of them being the way he bowed out of the game the last time he retired. Jordan scored 45 points and hit a winning jumper that gave the Bulls their sixth NBA championship and second threepeat in eight years.

Yet he was not able to do with the Wizards what he set out to do when he came down from the front office and put on a uniform before last season. Two years. Two trips to the lottery. Jordan admitted after last night's game that it was hard for him to get up for a meaningless contest.

Of course, it wasn't meaningless to the sellout crowd who came hoping to see a piece of history. The 76ers tried to send Jordan off right, presenting him with a golf cart. Fans gave him a 2-minute, 10-second ovation when he was introduced.

The reception was a lot warmer than the one Jordan had been getting from many of his teammates. The only memorable shots last night came out of the Wizards' locker room, a place awash in bitterness. There were no warm, fuzzy goodbyes there. Rather, before the game, players took turns venting their frustration at Collins, each other and the failure to make the playoffs.

The aim of Jordan's two-year return to the court was to use his experience and wisdom to help bring along the younger players. Instead, the old and young players were often at odds as both groups complained about lack of playing time and the lack of a coherent philosophy from Collins. Things hit an all-time low Monday when Collins laid into his younger players for the lack of respect they've shown him.

"If I knew all this would have happened, I never would have signed here," said Charles Oakley, who also may have played his last NBA game last night. "I didn't want to go out like this. I wanted to see Michael in the playoffs and have a good time. It's just a bad time. I think when you have Michael and Jerry Stackhouse and you don't make the playoffs, you've got to make some changes."

Stackhouse certainly wasn't shedding any tears over Jordan's departure. "The tour has come to an end tonight," he said. "I think everyone is looking forward to a new era."

What role Jordan will play in that era remains to be seen. Jordan says he is going back to the front office. But many believe he might jump ship to run the new franchise in Charlotte. With the acrimony in Washington, could anyone blame him?

"All the guys who thought he took away from their games this year are going to find out how much he helped," Collins said. "Sometimes, be careful what you wish for. You may get it."

Barbara Barker is a reporter for Newsday, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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