- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 20, 2002

CHICAGO In the days before Michael Jordan's return to Chicago, he almost sounded as if he believed the company line he had formulated: It's just another game, another chance for the Wizards to get on track by beating a team they and almost everyone else in the NBA are supposed to leave in ruins.
But when Jordan was introduced to 23,534 spectators at United Center yesterday, the only active professional player on the continent with his own statue erected in front of an arena shed a few tears.
Finally he was letting go of the pent-up emotions he had been lugging around. And even though he no doubt felt a little more comfortable as the game unfolded a sloppy affair in which his current team, the Washington Wizards, beat his old one, the Bulls, 77-69 Jordan never completely found his rhythm.
"When the crowd started that whole thing, it made it tough for me to play," Jordan said of the three-minute standing ovation, "I had a tough time playing against Chicago. It's like playing a relative, in a sense. It's not as intense; you're not quite as motivated. I'm glad it's over."
And about those tears that trickled down his cheeks during the introductions?
"They gave me the highest respect," Jordan said of the fans. "Thank God they cut the lights out."
Jordan finished with 16 points and 12 rebounds. Chris Whitney, meanwhile, stepped to the forefront with 20 points as the Wizards (19-18) ended their four-game losing streak and matched last season's victory total with 45 games to play. Washington won despite shooting 36.9 percent from the field.
"Sometimes you have to win ugly," Whitney said. "Like Coach [Doug Collins] said after the game, they don't say how, they just say how many. And that's what we're happy about. We came in and got a win."
Jordan's former team was the same horrible outfit it has been since he left in 1998. Chicago scored just 12 points in the first quarter while shooting 18.2 percent from the floor, and things never got much better for the Bulls (7-31). They shot a franchise-low 16.7 percent in the first half, and for the game approached the most futile offensive performance in NBA history. The Bulls' final 24.7 percentage (22-for-89) was just shy of the league low set by Milwaukee against Minnesota on Nov. 6, 1954.
"We laid an egg," former Jordan teammate Charles Oakley said. "We didn't look good; they didn't look good. We turned it over; they turned it over. It was just a bad game."
Just how bad was illustrated by the fact that the Bulls scored 18 points in the final 1:53, making the game appear closer than it really was.
But this game was about Jordan's return to Chicago, not about the final score, even though the Wizards are trying to position themselves for the playoffs for the first time since 1997. And Jordan was clearly not himself, which has been the case in recent games.
Jordan committed an uncharacteristic nine turnovers, and his 7-for-21 shooting was in line with recent outings. He is 16-for 56 over the Wizards' last three games.
Nevertheless, whenever Jordan did something impressive, the crowd cheered. Even when his shots rimmed out or he missed a layup, there was a buzz.
Afterward, Collins revealed how much this game meant to Jordan.
"You could see Michael wanted to win this game so badly," Collins said. "He was mad at me every time I took him out. He might not say much about it, but I know how important it is for him to win here."
It is clear that no matter what Jordan accomplishes in a Washington uniform, he will always belong to Chicago. And after the game, it sounded as if Chicago will always belong to him.
"I can say whatever I want to about the uniforms and the people that are in those uniforms," Jordan said. "Chicago is Chicago, and the Bulls are the Bulls. I'm happy where I am. Unfortunately, I'm apart from that. Here I am playing against their team. It was a tough night, a tough, tough night. I'm not trying to put blame anywhere. But the enthusiasm and the motivation were not quite the same."

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