Let's all bid fond farewell to Jordan's farewell tour

Jordan takes final bow

Michael Jordan Retires

23, 23, 23

April 17, 2003|By MIKE PRESTON

PHILADELPHIA - Maybe the end of one era will finally allow the NBA and the Washington Wizards to usher in another one.

The Michael Jordan farewell tour is over.

Finally.

That's what most of this NBA season has been about: the Wizards and Jordan. Ever since Jordan and the Chicago Bulls won their sixth title five years ago and Jordan went into Retirement No. 2, the league has feared that the younger crop of superstars couldn't carry the league.

So they were just as happy as Jordan was when he announced he would play again two years ago, this time in the nation's capital with the lowly Wizards.

Last night, Jordan closed out his illustrious 15-year career at the First Union Center, and at the same time there was an appreciation, it was time to exhale.

It's over.

Actor/comedian Bill Cosby was in the house along with producer Spike Lee and the singing group Boyz II Men. More than 200 media credentials were issued, and Jordan was given a golf cart by 76ers guard Eric Snow 15 minutes before the game, followed by hugs and handshakes from Moses Malone, World B Free and Julius Erving, who was Jordan before Jordan.

Teddy Pendergrass sang the national anthem, and Jordan received a standing ovation that was more rousing than the one he received in Washington on Monday.

And then the game went on. Final score: 76ers 107, Wizards 87 before a crowd of 21,257.

Maybe Jordan is finally at peace getting the 29-team salute he didn't get years ago when he left the Bulls. Hopefully, his ego and itch have been pacified, and the league is secure enough to move forward.

Our society is often gracious to aging superstars, but the Jordan burnout factor is at a premium. It was evident during the All-Star break when Jordan wasn't voted in by the fans, and only became a starter after Toronto's Vince Carter bowed out under pressure.

That's the way it has been all season.

Instead of marketing younger stars like Allen Iverson, Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant and Tracy McGrady, the NBA and the TV networks have crammed Wizards games and Jordan highlights down our throats for two years.

Enough is enough.

The Wizards are just as guilty. Owner Abe Pollin hasn't cared about winning since his franchise won its only title 25 years ago. Why else do you sign a 38-year-old superstar and allow him to run the franchise from top to bottom?

Money. That's what the Wizards have been about. Money and Michael.

The Wizards have been Jordan's play toy. He hand-picked coach Doug Collins, assistant coach Patrick Ewing and most of the players on the roster. He delegated playing time, including his own.

Nice gig.

But Jordan also has retarded the growth of this team. The Wizards had no inside presence with young players such as center Brendan Haywood and forward Kwame Brown because they became a guard-oriented offense. Instead of becoming shooting guard Jerry Stackhouse's team, Stackhouse had to share the wealth with you-know-who.

It was all about Mike.

Jordan said he returned to teach the Wizards about winning, yet Washington became Team Turmoil. Brown is rumored to be trade bait during the offseason. Veterans such as Charles Oakley and Bryon Russell have openly complained about roles and playing time.

Then there is Collins, the puppet.

He recently complained publicly about some of his younger players cursing him. Unbelievable. On the whole, basketball coaches, from high school through the pros, are some of the most foul mouthed in sports. For Collins to go public with these complaints shows he has lost control of this team.

The Wizards have had blinders on the past two seasons because there was a buzz in Washington again because of Jordan.

But the bottom line is that the Wizards haven't been to the playoffs with or without Jordan since the 1996-97 season. There have been some special moments on the farewell tour, like Jordan getting a piece of the floor in Boston and having his jersey retired in Miami.

The league and fans owe him a lot because he has delivered some special moments.

But it's time for the league and the Wizards to get out from under Jordan's enormous shadow. Jordan got a four-minute standing ovation at the beginning of the game and a three-minute one after his last foul shot at the end of the game. It was a fitting climax to a great career.

But a new chapter is about to begin, one that is definitely needed for the Wizards and for the league, which has a new infusion of talent both American and Europe.

Jordan is ready to pass the torch.

"Basketball has been my life," he said. "It gave me a chance to experience life all over the world. Basketball taught me about life. It taught me about achievement. I used the game as much as the game used me. The game also gave me the opportunity to touch a lot of people's lives. This is the final time; you don't have to worry about me putting on another uniform.

"I'm happy now, I can move on without a problem. The game is in great hands. The NBA is funny; you got a lot of young players coming into their own, they are understanding of the sacrifices, guys like KG [Kevin Garnett], [Tim] Duncan and Tracy McGrady. The young players understand you can't do it by yourself, you have to do it with other players. That's the system I'm trying to install [in Washington]."

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