Monday, April 14, 2003

No perfect career ending for Jordan

The (Westchester, N.Y.) Journal News

NEW YORK - It's too late in the game for Michael Jordan to script another perfect ending. The bald-headed icon will have to settle for a graceful exit as his Washington Wizards play out the string.

His dream of making one final appearance on the NBA's grand playoff stage will go unfulfilled.

"I want to make sure I smile when I walk away this time," Jordan said recently. "And know that I've given the game every ounce of talent and dedication. Hopefully I've inspired others and passed it along to these players today. That's all I could ever ask for. I can sit back and live through my kids like everybody else."

He says goodbye to the home folks Tuesday night when the New York Knicks visit the MCI Center, a building that has been sold out during his two-year comeback.

"I don't know what it's going to be like," Allan Houston said. "We're both not in the playoffs so in that way it's going to be a lot different, but Michael's the type of guy who every night only knows one way to play."

Knicks coach Don Chaney is expecting a show.

"I think being it's his last home game he's going to be pumped and I think his teammates are going to allow him to get 40-plus," he said. "They're going to force feed him for sure. What we have to do is make it a dark night for him."

Jordan closes the season in Philadelphia on Wednesday and will then decide whether he wants to go back upstairs and resume his duties as team president or move on. It just so happens the Chicago Bulls are looking for a general manager.

Nothing is in the works, but returning to the scene of his glory days has to be a little tempting.

"There's nothing like traveling, practicing, being in the locker room, being in timeouts and being able to observe people at their best and worst," Wizards coach Doug Collins said. "Hopefully when Michael's through here and steps back into the other seat, no one will have a greater grasp of this team and what we need to do better than he will, and he will be vital to our continuing to go in the right direction."

A few of his teammates contend there was too much pressure to succeed because of Jordan's legendary status and his front office position.

"It's deeper than what you see, I'll leave it at that," guard Jerry Stackhouse said. "The focus is not so much on the game. It's on the circumstances and situations around the game. You can't play basketball like that. ... When he goes back upstairs, guys will just kind of relax a little bit, and maybe that will be the difference. It will change a lot of things."

Jordan sat and watched the playoffs last season, too. He got more help this season and was coming off the bench early in the season, a move designed to preserve 40-year-old knees.

That approach changed in a hurry. Washington, though, didn't meet expectations and was lucky to be in contention until last week.

Some believe this comeback has tarnished Jordan's image.

"My perfect picture of him was when he hit that shot against Utah in the Finals," Houston said. "That's a storybook ending. As a fan, I would have liked that to be the last memory of Michael because it just doesn't get any better than that."

Still, this run cannot be considered a failure. Jordan is averaging 20 points and he kept the Wizards in the playoff hunt without a great deal of help.

"If you base it on whether they made the playoffs or not, people are going to say it was a failure," Shandon Anderson said. "But look at what he's done for the city of Washington, especially during the crisis right after 9/11. He turned that franchise around. You look at how they were drawing before he got there. Now, they're selling merchandise."

And hoping the younger players have learned something.

"Kwame Brown, for instance, didn't know who the NBA logo was," Jordan said. "Those are the things I feel like as an educator I have to pass on so they don't forget who was there before them. It's amazing how much they don't know and how much the game has changed."

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