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MJ gets Pentagon flag, MCI Center days end in defeat

4/14/2003

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The sting of losing, punctuated by some harsh
words from the coach, overshadowed everything at Michael Jordan's
final home game.

Jordan received a U.S. flag from Defense Secretary Donald
Rumsfeld and had some computers donated to public schools in his
name, but coach Doug Collins ripped Jordan's Washington Wizards
teammates following Monday's 93-79 loss to the New York Knicks.

"I've had guys curse at me in the locker room this year, show
no respect,'' Collins said. "It was insidious.''

Collins paid tribute to Jordan for stepping in when other
players showed disrespect. The coach also said there could be a
roster purge this offseason of players who failed to show the
proper regard for the coach. He didn't name any specific players.

"It won't happen next year. Trust me. I treat people with
dignity. I expect the same thing in return,'' Collins said.

Jordan, who blasted his teammates' work ethic several times this
season, supported Collins. He will get a chance to do something
about it if he returns to the Wizards' front office after the
season.

"It's definitely a concern,'' Jordan said. "It's a thing we
have to address.''

Jordan had others reasons to be upset. His playing career is
ending with a five-game home losing streak, and the Wizards, who
finish their season Wednesday night at Philadelphia, will end up at
least six games under .500.

"Some people believe I prohibited this group from growing up,''
Jordan said. "I'm not buying that. Next year's going to be a test
for some of these guys to understand at 40 years old what I gave to
the game the last two years.''

The other Wizards were blindsided by Collins' comments.
Second-year player Kwame Brown, a major disappointment since being
drafted No. 1 overall, was denying everything even before reporters
could finish their questions.

"No, that didn't happen. Didn't happen. I don't know what
you're talking about,'' Brown said. "Problems between me and Doug?
No, there's nothing there. He can't be talking about me because I
never said that. I'm a straight shooter, I'll tell somebody if I
felt that way.''

Brown cursed at Collins during the Wizards' game at Phoenix on
March 21.

Nearly lost in all the post-game anxiety was the spectacle
of Jordan's last home appearance.

It started when Rumsfeld, who received a loud ovation, presented
Jordan with a flag that flew over the Pentagon on the one-year
anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. The two shook hands and
chatted briefly, and Jordan cradled the flag in his right hand with
his head bowed as the national anthem played.

Jordan received a mild pre-game ovation when the starting
lineups were announced, then had 21 points and eight rebounds in 37
minutes. Allan Houston scored 23 points to lead the Knicks, who
tied the Wizards for ninth place in the Eastern Conference.

Jordan come out firing, taking nine shots in the first quarter,
but he once again he couldn't make the difference on a team with
uneven talent and questionable chemistry. In the fourth quarter,
typically Jordan-time, he scored just two points and left the game
for good with 2:02 to play.

"Michael can't carry a subpar team to the playoffs at age 40,''
Collins said. "If Michael were 25, we would have made the
playoffs. This team never mixed; it never fit.''

As Jordan sat, the MCI Center crowd rose to its feet and cheered
and chanted for 2 minutes, 45 seconds. Afterward, Wizards owner Abe
Pollin donated 50 computers to each of Washington's 18 public high
schools in Jordan's name.

Jordan had tried not to make a big deal out of the game, saying
beforehand it was "just another night.''

"It seemed like more of a circus the last time we played them
in New York,'' Houston said. "And that was on our home court.''

Although he couldn't produce a winning record, Jordan brought
national exposure and big profits to the Wizards, who shattered
attendance records over the last two seasons. All 82 home games in
the 20,000-seat arena were sellouts, averaging 5,000 more fans per
game than in the season before Jordan returned.

The last time Jordan played a home game that wasn't a sellout
was Nov. 20, 1987, when he was with the Chicago Bulls.

The Wizards presented a video tribute at halftime, showing a
full range of highlights and emotions on and off the court from
Jordan's 15-year career and six NBA titles.

Game notes
While it was Jordan's last home game for the Wizards, it
wasn't his last game in a Wizards uniform. The Wizards wore their
1978 throwback Bullets uniforms for their last three home games;
they lost all three. ... Rumsfeld stayed for the first half,
watching the game from the front row sitting next to agent David
Falk. ... Jerry Stackhouse returned to the Wizards' starting lineup
after missing two games with tendinitis in his left knee, but he
played only the first half before the knee flared up again. ... The
Wizards have to win their last game to pass last season's victory
total of 37.