- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 18, 2000

WIZARDS 104, BULLS 103

CHICAGO Michael Jordan showed up at the United Center last night and, as usual, his teamwon.

This time, though, Jordan was rooting for the Washington Wizards, who defeated the Bulls 104-103 on Laron Profit's tip-in with 2.1 seconds left in a preseason game last night at the United Center in front of 18,909. The Wizards had to rally from 17 points down to earn the win. The win marked the first time in this preseason the Wizards have scored more than 100 points. Had the Wizards not shot just 23 of 47 from the free-throw line they would have won easily.

"We wanted to win it for Michael and for [assistant coach] Johnny Bach," said Juwan Howard, who led the Wizards (2-2) with 16 points. "They both have a lot of history here and we wanted to win one for them. Also, we didn't want Michael to kill us when we get back to D.C."

Profit's tip-in came on a missed jumper by Chris Whitney, who finished with 14 points.

Overshadowing the game was Jordan's return to the United Center, an edifice that will forever be known as the building where Jordan reached the greatest moments of his career.

Contrary to popular opinion, this was not the first time Jordan has returned to the United Center since retiring after the 1997-98 season. Jordan made an appearance at a hockey game here in 1999.

Yesterday there was an air of uncertainty as to whether Jordan would show up. The media here has been speculating that he might, but 45 minutes before game time there was no Jordan.

This all changed about 15 minutes later when Jordan and assistant general manager Rod Higgins entered the arena through a back door in the basement. Immediately Jordan, wearing a brown suit, walked briskly by a gathering of about 30 media members and into the Wizards locker room.

Jordan's watched most of the game from a box along with Higgins and some other associates, but his presence in the arena went mostly undetected by crowd.

What added so much intrigue to Jordan's return to see a Bulls game is the way his career ended here. Many in this city today blame Bulls management mainly chairman Jerry Reinsdorf and vice president of basketball operations Jerry Krause for not allowing Jordan, Dennis Rodman, Scottie Pippen and coach Phil Jackson to return and defend their title for a fourth time. Since that team disbanded, the Bulls have put together back-to-back horrendous seasons.

Reinsdorf and Krause have never truly given Jordan credit for leading the Bulls. Perhaps this is why no mention of Jordan's presence was made at the game.

Jordan yesterday said that the city still pulls on his heartstrings, but he made it clear that raising the Wizards from their Titanic-type depths is now his main focus.

"My heart as a player is always going to be with the Chicago Bulls," Jordan said, "but in terms of my new position it's Washington. I'm not here to take away anything from Chicago. But being that I'm employed by Washington I wanted to beat Chicago without a doubt."

This was supposed to be the season when the Bulls would bounce back. They were millions of dollars below the salary cap and Chicago is perceived by many players to be one of the more desirable cities in which to live. But instead of landing marquee free agents like Grant Hill or Tim Duncan, the Bulls walked away with second-tier talent, such as Ron Mercer.

Jordan said he did talk to Krause during the offseason and made it clear that the relationship is still chilly.

"We talked about some possible deals, but we have yet to come to some compromise," Jordan said. "But that doesn't mean that we don't try to conduct business.

But Jordan was not in town to discuss what was and what might have been in Chicago. He was here, instead, to see the Wizards who begin the regular season in less than two weeks.

Jordan couldn't have liked what he saw early from his new team. Playing against a team that last year won only 17 games, the Wizards provided very little resistance as the Bulls closed the first quarter on a 9-1 run to lead 33-19. The Wizards looked particularly bad at the defensive end as the Bulls beat them for easy baskets on the way to shooting 66.7 percent (14 of 21) from the field.

The situation didn't get much better for the Wizards in the second quarter. In fact, it got worse. Looking as lethargic as they have at any point in the preseason, the Wizards fell behind by 17 points midway through the second quarter.

The one area where the Wizards were not that bad early on was in their backcourt. Rod Strickland and Mitch Richmond combined for 23 of the Wizards' 54 first half points. And Richmond, who has struggled early, attacked the basket aggressively enough to get 10 free throws, six of which he connected on.

Washington whittled the lead to 61-54 at halftime by outscoring the Bulls 35-28 in the second quarter, but it didn't take long for the much more active Bulls to restore their lead to 83-67 after a three-point basket by rookie guard Khalid El-Amin. But the Wizards reserves battled hard in the fourth quarter, hard enough to take their first lead of the game, 98-97, on Chris Whitney's three-pointer with 4:13 left in the game.

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