Thursday, April 17, 2003

Final game less than dramatic

By Mike Lopresti
Gannett News Service

PHILADELPHIA - And on the night of his 1,072nd NBA game, Michael Jordan rested. The long ride ended Wednesday night with 15 points, and a 107-87 loss. With unending standing ovations from an enemy crowd, but no late dramatic shot to try, no last magic to make, no big game to win.

It ended with him playing only 51 seconds in the fourth quarter, long enough to make two late meaningless free throws in a blowout defeat.

The last of 32,292 points. Then a few smiles, a wave of his hand, and a walk off the court for good, taking the game ball with him.

"Basketball's been my life," he said later. "It's been like my best friend. Sometimes you have to grow up and move away from your best friend."

It ended in adulation, from a city named for brotherly love but known for torment of its opponents. But not Wednesday.

"I wish he'd got a hundred tonight," said Philadelphia coach Larry Brown. "I'm proud of my team, but this is not a night to talk about my team."

"There's not any perfect person in this world," Allen Iverson said. "But he's close. He's the guy who gave me the vision to want to play basketball."

So ended, too, a frustrating and anguished limp to the finish line, as the Washington Wizards fell apart around him, a bitter and confused team, left to pointing fingers.

It made for an odd atmosphere the last days, with sour recriminations amid a celebration, like throwing mud in the party punch. Even on this special night.

5:30 p.m. - The Washington locker room. Bryon Russell is discussing the disappointment that Jordan carries away from this night, like unwanted baggage.

"All he ever wanted was for people to go out, play hard and work hard and let the game come to them," Russell says. "It didn't happen."

"He's running out of time to make the playoffs. Well, no, he's run out of time."

6 p.m. Coach Doug Collins stands in the hallway.

"He desperately wanted to be in the playoffs. But I get the sense that after tonight is over, he'll breathe a sigh of relief, and say, 'You know, it's done now.'

"I don't want to see him walk off the court. I don't want to see that moment because it's the end of a guy who loves basketball more than anybody I've ever seen.

"There are a lot of people who view us not making the playoffs as Michael failing. I view it more as us failing him. We didn't help him enough. The way I look at it, he did his job. I don't think I did mine and I don't think the team did theirs."

7 p.m. - In a brief ceremony, the 76ers roll in Jordan's golf cart, driven by Moses Malone, to make the fairways easier in retirement. He thanks the crowd, and gives the biggest hug to Julius Erving.

7:15 p.m. - Starting lineups. Jordan is introduced by Ray Clay, the Chicago announcer who announced his name so many times with the Bulls. The standing ovation goes on for two minutes.

8:50 p.m. - Jordan goes out with 4:13 left in the third quarter, having hit 6 of 15 shots. The game is out of hand. He considers his night, and career, over.

9:25 p.m. - As the last minutes slip away, the crowd is on its feet, pleading. "We want Mike! We want Mike!"

9:37 p.m. - Only 2:35 remain at the last time out. "Michael," Collins says to him, "I played here. At least I want to be able to come back to this city. You've got to go in."'

Jordan takes off his warmup and enters the game. The building erupts. He is not used to being out there during garbage time of a game that means nothing, being in the spotlight for this reason.

"I won't say I'm embarrassed," he says later. "But I've had better feelings."

9:39 p.m. - The 76ers quickly foul Jordan, so he can get to the line. Two free throws cut the score to 103-85. He leaves the game.

It's not exactly hitting a jumper win the 1998 NBA Finals. That was the dream final shot he once had. But this is goodbye.

10:20 p.m - The last press conference by Michael Jordan, NBA player.

"Now it's hit me, I'm not going to be in uniform anymore. It's not a terrible feeling. It's something I've come to grips with it. It's time."

He says he wants to be remembered as a guy who loved the game. "I never took the game for granted. I was very true to the game, and the game was very true to me."

Six NBA titles. Five MVPs. Records, memories, Wheaties boxes, sport drinks, basketball shoes.

"I've given everything I could to the game," he says.

And then he is gone.

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