12:00 PM ET, January 19, 2002
United Center, Chicago, IL
12:00 PM ET, January 19, 2002
United Center, Chicago, IL
CHICAGO (AP) -- His statue sits in front of the arena.
Michael Jordan had a hard time keeping composed during the three-minute standing ovation he received from the Chicago faithful.
Playing in Chicago can never be just another game for Michael Jordan.
"I have too many memories," he said. "It's important for me not to come back and try to live up to that situation because that's tough. I may have a good game maybe the next time I come here.
"But to try to compare the two eras or the two situations, it's very, very tough."
The struggle between past and present was clear Saturday as Jordan made his first trip to Chicago as a visiting player. The Washington Wizards beat the Chicago Bulls 77-69 -- getting victory No. 19, matching their total from all of last season -- but Jordan had about as bad a game as he's ever played.
He fought back tears as fans gave him a thunderous, 3-minute ovation before the game, and he didn't have much better luck containing his emotions the rest of the day. He had a career-high nine turnovers, and was just 7-of-21 from the floor for 16 points.
"When the crowd started that whole thing, it made it tough for me to play," Jordan admitted. "I had a tough time playing against Chicago. It's like playing a relative, in a sense. It's not as intense, you're not quite as motivated."
He did have 12 rebounds, four assists, two steals and two blocks, but this game will never make any of his many highlight reels.
Chicago wasn't any better, threatening the NBA record for lowest field-goal percentage. The Bulls shot just 24.7 percent, just shy of the NBA low of 22.9 shot by Milwaukee against Minneapolis on Nov. 6, 1954.
The Bulls did set a franchise record for worst shooting percentage in a half, managing just 16.7 percent in the first half.
"We laid a big egg," said Bulls forward Charles Oakley, Jordan's old teammate and friend. "We didn't look good, they didn't look good. We turned it over, they turned it over. We missed free throws. They missed free throws. It was a bad game."
"I've got a statue sitting out front. It's going to be tough for me to come back and it just be another game," Jordan said. "It's always going to be compared to what I did here. It's human nature. And I know that."
His watery eyes said that best. As United Center announcer Ray Clay introduced Jordan before the game, the sellout crowd stood and started clapping and screaming. At first, he tried to ignore it, looking down at his blue-and-white Air Jordans and chewing on his lip.
But as the ovation continued, Jordan finally looked up. His eyes filled with tears and he glanced around the arena that will always be home no matter where he's playing. He gave a shaky smile and waved at the fans, who adore him for the six titles he won with the Bulls -- even if he's no longer wearing that familiar red-and-black No. 23.
One fan summed it up best, carrying a sign that read, simply, "Thanks, Mike." Clearly moved, Jordan looked around, seeming almost stunned by the lovefest.
The fans cheered every move Jordan made early -- even when he fouled Artest. When he made his first basket, a 15-foot jumper over Kevin Ollie with 7:38 left in the first quarter, the fans yelled as if it were a game-winner.
Of course, there wasn't much else to yell about. Chicago missed its first 13 shots and was down 30-16 after Tyronn Lue's putback with 4:02 left in the half. But Artest hit a 3-pointer to start a 17-5 run that spanned the end of the second quarter and start of the third, pulling the Bulls to 35-33.
Whitney countered with a 3-pointer to start a 13-3 Wizards run, and the Bulls never threatened again.
"It wasn't kind of ugly, it was real ugly," said Washington coach Doug Collins, who coached the Bulls from 1986-89. "But we'll take it."
Besides, the game wasn't what fans came to see. They were here to see Jordan. And it was just like old times when he arrived about 2 hours before the game.
A media crowd was waiting for him, and with flashbulbs popping and cameras rolling, he walked down the familiar hallway. People shouted questions at him as his security people tried to shelter him from all the jostling.
Then Jordan headed for the locker room. And that's when it got really weird.
"Hey Michael!" someone yelled, "what's it going to feel like going to the visitor's locker room?"
"I don't even know where it is," he cracked.
It's been 3 1/2 years since Jordan walked away after the Bulls won their sixth NBA championship. He vowed never to play for a coach other than Phil Jackson and swore the Chicago Bulls uniform was the only one he'd wear.
But there he was, in the blue-and-black of the Wizards. Fans have forgiven his defection, choosing instead to blame Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf and general manager Jerry Krause for chasing him out of town.
Neither was there Saturday -- Reinsdorf was in Arizona, and Krause was on a scouting trip.
"They may have had something else to do," Jordan said. "I'm not going to second-guess them. I don't think it had anything to do with me."
There was no question whose side the fans were on. It was only the second sellout this season at the United Center, and the Bulls' first network television appearance in two seasons.
Kids in Jordan jerseys -- both the new and old versions -- were lined up well before the game in the stands above the tunnel where the teams enter. Taylor DeRosa, an 11-year-old from St. Louis, was dressed in a Jordan Wizards jersey and carried a sign that read, "Mr. Jordan, my X-mas present was to see you play!"
When the game ended, fans lined the tunnel again for one last goodbye.
"It was great to revisit some of those memories," Jordan said. "But times are different. Situations are different."