- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 31, 2001

NEW YORK There was magic in the air, but not enough on the floor.

They played a ragged game, the Wizards and Knicks did, a game that did the NBA no marketing favors, even if it did mark the return of Michael Jordan.

It was, in a way, the biggest game of what promises to be a long season for Jordan and the Wizards. It was the first official peek at the 38-year-old legend. Spike Lee, in a Latrell Sprewell jersey, was in the house. So was Turner Sports.

The game was televised in 210 countries, possibly even in Osama bin Laden's cave.

It was an event preening for attention around Game 3 of the World Series. It came with a playoff-like atmosphere.

That might have to pass as the real thing for the Wizards this season unless Jordan is able to muster 41-43 victories with this bunch. Coach Doug Collins is there to assist Jordan in wringing as much as possible out of the threadbare roster.

"It's a great environment to get a handle on how our guys might respond," Collins said before the game. "One game is not going to make or break our season."

The Wizards opened in a city that likes to think it invented the game of basketball. It is a city Jordan used to torment in the postseason. His Bulls teams eliminated the Knicks from the playoffs four times in the '90s.

The last time he unretired, in 1995, Jordan scored 55 points against the Knicks on his first visit back to West 33rd.

"One thing about New York fans, they always recognize greatness," Collins said. "In New York, you're either going to be a king or you're going to be down low."

Jordan is the king of kings, basketball geezer though he may be.

He is still trying to get in touch with his aging body. He did not recover as quickly as he was accustomed after pushing too hard at the beginning of training camp.

"He has that same look in his eyes," Collins said.

Same look. Slower response time.

His smarts are supposed to offset his diminishing physical gifts.

"He still wants to win," Collins said. "He knows now he has to pick and choose a little bit."

Jordan picking and choosing is better than 19-63, the alternative.

The game lacked continuity, partly because it was the first game of the season and the game involved the plodding, determined playing style of the Knicks.

The Knicks play ugly basketball out of pride and do all they can to impose it on opponents. They missed Marcus Camby in the middle. They could be missing a coach on the bench, depending on whether Jeff Van Ankle Weight merits the benefit of the doubt.

Collins provided an early wrinkle, moving Jordan to point guard. Jordan was content to move the ball around and find his shots within the flow of the game. He finished with six points and two assists in the first 12 minutes as the Wizards took a 21-19 lead.

Jordan missed a layup after picking off a pass, and he was forced to take an ill-advised jumper with the 24-second shot clock winding down.

As unsteady as Jordan and the Wizards looked at times, the Knicks looked worse. The Knicks were the perfect season-opening opponent, down as they were to Sprewell, Allan Houston and a lot of guys who hardly matter. They are only barely the Knicks who advanced to the NBA Finals in 1999.

The Knicks wrested control of the game in the third quarter, only to fall behind again early in the fourth quarter.

Jordan couldn't find his shot. The condition must have been contagious. No one looked too sharp from the outside, not in the first 36 minutes anyway.

It was not like old times for Jordan. Sometimes it was just old Jordan, settling for jump shots, trying to find happiness with his new, less improved self.

He'll have his nights this season. He'll have nights when his outside shot is dropping and he is getting every call, and then some. He'll have nights that inspire men to squeal like little girls.

This was not one of those nights.

It was just the first of 82 games, nothing remarkable, Jordan and all.

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