- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 19, 2002

Michael Jordan returns to Chicago today, the city where perhaps the most legendary career in basketball was forged. And even though Jordan says this afternoon's game against the Bulls at United Center is merely an opportunity for the Wizards to end their second longest losing streak of the season, it is more than that.
"We've lost four games in a row," Jordan said after the team's practice yesterday at MCI Center. "Obviously, we're going there to try to win a game, stop the bleeding a little bit. I'm sure everybody is going to try to make it a big thing about me going back to Chicago, [but] I'm not.
"Sure, I've had some memories there, and they're still there actually. Once the crowd starts yelling, it might be hard to swallow the emotion. But once the ball goes up, it's all about basketball."
Hardly.
At 38, Jordan remains perhaps the most easily recognizable face on the planet, and Chicago is the city where his fame was spawned.
In his 13 seasons, Jordan led the Bulls to six NBA championships. Along the way, he was named regular-season MVP five times; NBA Finals MVP six times and won the league scoring crown an unprecedented 10 times.
Off court, Jordan reached a degree of popularity that no athlete in history has ever approached, particularly as a pitchman. Fortune Magazine once said Jordan alone was responsible for pumping approximately $10 billion into the American economy.
However, following the Bulls' sixth championship season in 1997-98, management decided against bringing back coach Phil Jackson. Jordan said he would never play for another coach in Chicago and retired before the start of the lockout-truncated 1998-99 season. The Bulls quickly disintegrated into one of the worst professional sports franchises in America.
And even though Jordan probably would never have come to Washington without becoming part owner two years ago, he is not unhappy with where he is right now in his career.
"I have no regrets [about leaving Chicago]," Jordan said. "It's unfortunate, sure. Some things are not meant to be, and I take it that way. … I like my situation here. I've made great progress and great friendships here. Sure, I'll have some lifelong friendships in Chicago, and I haven't lost those. But I have no regrets at all in terms of my decision at all to get to this point."
But don't be fooled. Although Washington has opened up its arms to Jordan, Chicago is still his home, and yesterday he sounded as if it always will be.
"I have not changed my residence," Jordan said. "I work [in D.C.], and I live in Chicago. I can't see myself leaving Chicago because of the things that they have provided for me and what I have tried to provide for them."
One thing Jordan does not want to provide Chicago fans is a chance to see their struggling team hand him and the Wizards a loss. Wretched as they are, the Bulls (8-30) have played better recently under Bill Cartwright, who became coach after Tim Floyd resigned earlier this season.
"We're not playing well," Jordan said of the 18-18 Wizards. "When you lose and you don't play well, things become more magnified. This is a chance for us to get back on track."
The whole experience likely will have an eerie feeling for Jordan. Washington's team bus will drive right by the statue of him in front of United Center. And he noted that he has never seen the visitors' locker room there.
Ironically, Jordan's return will be only the second biggest sports story in Chicago today because the Bears are meeting the Philadelphia Eagles at Soldier Field with a trip to the NFC Championship game at stake. A recent survey in one of the Chicago newspapers asked readers where they would rather be, at United Center for Jordan or Soldier Field for the playoff game, and the Bears won in a landslide.
This had even Jordan wondering how his reception might go.
"I think we'll have to wait and see," Jordan said. "I think everything is going to be positive. They are very loyal fans; I respect that. I think they want the Bulls to win. I'm pretty sure they'd like to see me play decent, if not well. But we've got a lot of memories in that building. I wouldn't expect them to be forgotten in just one game in Chicago."
Notes Washington forward Christian Laettner will play today for the first time since breaking his left fibula Dec. 14. Popeye Jones, who has started in place of Laettner at power forward, will continue to start. Also, backup point guard Tyronn Lue will play today after missing two games with an injured groin.

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