CHICAGO (AP) -- Michael Jordan hurried off the court where he
once ruled the NBA, not even taking a last glance over his shoulder.
It wasn't the ending he wanted or imagined, but it was goodbye nonetheless. With the Chicago fans cheering him one last time, Jordan finally faded from view.
"We both had a chance to say goodbye. Let's move on to the rest of the season and move on in life,'' Jordan said Friday night after scoring just 11 points in the Washington Wizards' 104-97 loss to the Chicago Bulls.
It was likely Jordan's last game in Chicago.
"I still will be here in Chicago,'' he said. "My heart is always here.''
And a piece of Jordan will always be in Chicago's heart. Given a chance to show their love and adoration for the man who brought them six NBA championships, the Chicago fans showered him with a thunderous ovation that lasted four minutes.
He didn't have a particularly good night, shooting just 4-for-14 in 39 minutes.
But the entire game was a lovefest, with adoring signs throughout the arena and flashbulbs popping each time he touched the ball. It had all the makings of a perfect farewell to Chicago -- except for his old team sending him out a loser.
It was Jordan's first loss to his old team in the five games
he's played the Bulls.
"For whatever reason, it wasn't a good ending in terms of not winning,'' Jordan said. "But good things come to an end. This will not ruin my career, what my career stood for.
"It's just a game. Unfortunately, we lost and we'll move on.''
Marcus Fizer scored 17 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter for the Bulls, and dominated the Wizards inside. He scored Chicago's first 11 points of the fourth, all but one on hook shots or layups.
Still, Jordan and the Wizards almost pulled it out at the end. Trailing 97-87, they reeled off eight straight points, capped by four from Jordan.
With a little more than two minutes left, he grabbed an
offensive rebound, drove the baseline and scored on a layup to cut
Chicago's lead to four. He drew a foul on the next possession and
made both shots, pulling Washington within two at 97-95.
But after a timeout, Fizer grabbed a loose ball and scored on a
baby hook. Donyell Marshall then sealed the win with three free
throws in the last 30 seconds.
"He's going to always be Michael Jordan, no matter what,'' Fizer said. "In three or four years, he could be 300 or 400 pounds and he's still going to be Michael Jordan.
"He will always be the greatest to me and will always be the
greatest to a lot of people.''
Especially to people in Chicago. A sold-out crowd of 23,215 had packed the United Center by the time the Wizards took the court for warmups 10 minutes before the game. Fans were dressed in all vintages of Jordan jerseys: North Carolina, Chicago, Washington.
They carried signs, too. "Thanks for the memories, MJ,'' read one. "We will never forget,'' read another. "Michael, there's no place like home,'' said a third.
"Believe me, I feel proud that I represented them over the years I played here,'' Jordan said. "They inspired me for many years and they gave me a great appreciation.''
Though Jordan swears this is his last season, he doesn't want the traveling farewell tour. So the Bulls canceled the pregame ceremony they'd originally planned.
But the fans found a way to honor him anyway.
They erupted as soon as they heard "From North Carolina ... ," in the pregame introductions, drowning out the rest of the P.A. announcer's words with cheers and applause. Jordan had similar receptions the other times he was here, so he knew this was coming.
He drank it all in, smiling and nodding as the crowd cheered, blowing kisses and mouthing "Thank you,'' several times to the fans. But instead of dying down, the cheers got louder. One minute passed. Then two. And then three. Chicago fans just didn't want to let him go.
"That's unpredecented,'' Bulls forward Jalen Rose said. "Unprecedented.''
Finally, after three minutes and 20 seconds, a sheepish Jordan grabbed a microphone and headed to center court for an impromptu speech.
"Thank you,'' he said, drawing a scream of delight from the
crowd. "It's truly been a pleasure. You guys have given me great
pleasure to play in the city of Chicago.
"I love you all. You're still supporting the Chicago Bulls.
Thank you for supporting them over the years.
"Thank you all. I love you very much.''
There were boos when the lights finally went off -- four minutes
after Jordan was introduced -- but the Chicago fans had plenty more
chances to honor him. With 5:56 left in the first half, a video
tribute was shown on the Jumbotron.
"He's a special individual to get that kind of attention,'' Fizer said. "And he very well deserved it.''
Christian Laettner scored a season-high 21 points and had
10 rebounds. ... The Bulls had a season-high 32 assists and a
season-low nine turnovers. ... Washington's Jerry Stackhouse, who
missed four games recently with a groin injury, had his fourth
double-double of the season with 23 points and 10 assists. ...
Neither Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf nor general manager Jerry
Krause were present. Reinsdorf was in Arizona on personal business
and Krause was on a scouting trip.