- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 31, 2001

NEW YORK Walt Frazier arrived at Madison Square Garden last night in typical sartorial splendor, wearing a stylish yellow sport coat befitting the man who brought style to the Garden more than 30 years ago.

When Michael Jordan was 7 years old, Walt Frazier was the star on the greatest stage in basketball. It was Willis Reed who limped on the court in Game 7 against the Los Angeles Lakers in 1970 to inspire his team and hit the first two baskets of the game. But it was Frazier who scored 36 points and had 19 assists to lead the Knicks to their first NBA title. It is Frazier's No. 10 jersey that hangs from the rafters here. It is Frazier's picture that lines the wall of sports greats at the Garden on the way to the Knicks' locker room.

It's not the house that Walt built, but he certainly made it a fun place to be when he played here, and not just for his talent on the court. His "Clyde" persona of cool made him a star off the court as well. So who better to judge the atmosphere surrounding the official return of Michael Jordan to the NBA than the Clyde himself.

"I think it's great for the game," said Frazier, who works as the color analyst for Knicks cable telecasts. "Look at all the hoopla it has created. The only thing is, I wish he was 28 so we could watch him for 10 more years."

He's 38, though, and appeared to feel it in the first quarter of last night's season opener for the Wizards/Jordanettes against the Knicks. He looked sluggish early on, hitting on three of eight from the field. His first official points of the second comeback came on a driving layup with about 1:32 gone in the quarter. His second basket was a 20-foot jumper about three minutes later, on which he was fouled and sank the free throw, and the third bucket was a running jump shot about one minute later.

In between, there were five missed shots one of them an air ball that brought a roar of astonishment from the crowd. It was one of the few times the crowd had a chance to react to anything. The other time came when former heavyweight champion Smoking Joe Frazier, seated courtside, stood up during a timeout and shadowboxed to the crowd's delight.

Jordan never did get untracked, and scored 19 forgettable points in a 93-91 Wizards loss.

The action on the court certainly didn't match the atmosphere before the game. Outside on 7th Avenue, the sign lighting up the entrance to the Garden just noted that a game was being played here tonight between the New York Knicks and the Washington Wizards. It said nothing about Michael Jordan, but the buzz outside and inside the building centered around No. 23 for the Wizards.

It was a remarkable time to be in the city, with Game 3 of the World Series taking place at Yankee Stadium and the dramatic appearance of President Bush to throw out the first pitch. Uptown, downtown, all around the town, it was a big night.

The Garden issued more than 600 media credentials, which meant, like the typical Jordan story these days, reporters searched high and low for anyone to talk to about Jordan's comeback, since his Airness was hidden away deep in the Wizards locker room, doing whatever it is the greatest player in the history of the game needs to do to prepare to be great again. Spike Lee, Michael's mascot, was more than willing to oblige, as a crowd of about 40 reporters surrounded him.

Lee, it turns out, is the Zelig of New York sports. "I grew up here, so I've been very fortunate to have been at a lot of great things, like Game 7 against the Lakers when Willis Reed came out. I ran on the field when Davey Johnson flied out to Cleon Jones when the Mets won in 1969. I was at the Buckner game. … this is another special night in the greatest city in the world, the greatest sports city with the greatest fans," Lee said.

I thought for a minute he was going to say he chased Bobby Thomson around the basepaths when he homered off Ralph Branca in 1951.

Give Lee credit, though, for raising $101,300 for a fund for widows and children of firefighters by auctioning off his other courtside ticket for this event. The ticket was bought by someone who, remaining anonymous, turned around and gave the seat to the child of one of the firefighters killed during the September 11 terrorist attacks.

A lot of foreign media turned out to cover the return of Jordan. It would be interesting to see what they transmitted back home. In the Wizards locker room before the game, a Japanese crew filmed Courtney Alexander with his head down, listening to music on his earphones, for about five minutes. Chris Whitney brought Christian Laettner out to another foreign television crew and told them he was Michael Jordan. I don't think they believed him.

There is no mistaking Michael Jordan. He's the one everyone wants to watch, the one everyone is looking for, the one who, whether he succeeds or fails, will have the attention of all of us even Hall of Famers like Walt "Clyde" Frazier. It will be a unique position for the Washington Wizards.

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