Jordan takes final bow

Wizard scores 15 points in 107-87 loss

Philly fans savor his final minutes

Their chants get him off bench

Of basketball, he says he `had great relationship, like my best friend'

Michael Jordan Retires

23, 23, 23

April 17, 2003|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

PHILADELPHIA - The old axiom goes that the gods seldom answer the cries of mere mortals, and so it was for most of the fourth quarter last night at the First Union Center.

For nearly the entire fourth quarter, the highly partisan Philadelphia 76ers crowd chanted "We want Mike!" - begging Michael Jordan to make one last appearance in his final NBA game.

Finally, after some coaxing, Jordan got up from the Washington Wizards' bench at the 2:35 mark of the period and took a final few trots up and down the floor until Eric Snow ran over and fouled Jordan with 1:45 remaining, sending him to the free-throw line for one final trip.

With flashbulbs popping, Jordan sank both foul shots, then Bobby Simmons took a foul on John Salmons, giving Jordan a chance to exit a thoroughly meaningless 107-87 loss to the 76ers, with 15 points in 28 minutes.

"Obviously the game didn't merit me going back in and maintaining or finding my competitive juices because we were 25 points down," Jordan said. "Obviously they wanted to see me make a couple of baskets and then come off. That was very, very respectful. I had a good time."

Jordan did appear to have a good time in the final game of the 1,072 he played in 15 seasons, battling and competing with the best opposition basketball could offer.

"The most important thing out of all of it is I beat him," said Philadelphia guard Allen Iverson, who finished with 35 points. "He's a competitive guy and I know he wanted the win. There's not many perfect people in the world, but, you know, he's close, and that says a lot."

For some, seeing Jordan in the blue and white of Washington at the end of his career seemed as off-putting as Johnny Unitas finishing up in a San Diego Chargers uniform.

Indeed, there were more than a few recollections to Jordan's 13 years and six titles in Chicago, including his introduction by the public address announcer who ushered him in at Chicago Stadium and the United Center.

"[The Chicago experience] was totally different," said Jordan, who presumably will return to the Wizards as head of basketball operations. "You had a maturity level that was totally different. You had a winning attitude."

Jordan took a curtain call after about a minute after leaving the floor, because that was the only way the game was going to continue. Finally, two minutes and 20 seconds later, after Salmons shot his free throws, the applause finally died down and the game went on.

When the horn sounded, Jordan embraced Sixers coach Larry Brown and accepted the game ball from Snow.

"I remember my dad talking about Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth, and I remember how in love with Jackie Robinson I became growing up in Brooklyn," Brown said. "I even walked like him and then my son got to see Michael and spend time with him and he's going to be able to say the same thing I said about Jackie."

The 76ers needed the win to nail the fourth slot in the Eastern Conference playoffs, and home-court advantage. The Wizards, who, in the words of coach Doug Collins, "stunk" in Monday's home finale, were looking for postseason tee times.

So there was little chance Jordan would finish his career on a winning note. Already leading by 10 at the half, the Sixers (48-34) torched Washington (37-45) for 33 third-quarter points - a season high.

"It's tough to play a game when it's not quite as much emphasis on the game besides knowing how Michael Jordan ends his career," said Jordan. " ... This is new to me too, playing a game that doesn't have any meaning."

Jordan retires with 32,292 points - third on the all-time scoring list behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Karl Malone - as well as 12,192 field goals, 6,672 rebounds, 5,633 assists, 2,514 steals and 581 three-pointers.

In contrast to the rather sparse farewell the Wizards' organization laid out for Jordan in Monday's home finale, the Sixers spared no expense, presenting him with a golf cart driven by Hall of Famers Julius Erving and Moses Malone.

Jordan, who did not address the MCI Center crowd Monday, took a microphone and saluted the First Union Center crowd.

Rhythm and blues singer Teddy Pendergrass delivered a stirring rendition of the national anthem. Then came the player introductions, during which the Sixers trotted out Ray Clay, the former public address announcer in Chicago, who brought out just one man, just the way he always did.

"From North Carolina, at guard, 6 feet 6, Michael Jordan."

At that moment, the sound of Philadelphia, often given to boos and catcalls for the opposition, turned instead to deafening applause and a standing ovation that went on for 2 1/2 minutes, interrupted only by the introduction of the Sixers.

In his final post-game interview, Jordan reflected about his experiences in the game and without a trace of emotion summed up the relationship between himself and the game he helped advance.

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