- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 20, 2002

CHICAGO — It wasn't easy being Michael Jordan yesterday. This was his first game back in Chicago since he came out of retirement to play for the Wizards, and it wasn't a particularly good experience for anyone who was part of it.
It wasn't good for Jordan. He shot just 7-for-21 from the field, scoring 16 points. He did pull down 12 rebounds, but he missed out on a triple double because he had nine turnovers, a career high.
"It will always be tough to play here," Jordan said after the Wizards' 77-69 victory over the Bulls. "I have a statue out front. It's never going to be just another game."
Yes, he does have a statue in front of United Center, one with a pose of Jordan stretching out with the ball in his hand. At least the ball was in the statue's hand before the game. I think Ron Artest might have stolen it sometime yesterday.
It couldn't have been a particularly good experience for Chicago fans, who had come to love and adore the version of a Jordan who was the best basketball player in history, leading the Bulls to six NBA titles and giving the city a championship identity. What they saw yesterday was an old, worn-out version who looked sad when he lost the ball trying to drive the lane.
After yesterday's dismal display of NBA basketball, Chicago fans may be longing for the old days of Al Capone.
"It was a tough game for me to play," Jordan said. "The enthusiasm and motivation was not quite the same."
And it certainly wasn't a good experience for the Bulls, who nearly turned in a record performance for lousy field goal shooting, going into the fourth quarter shooting just 16 percent from the field. It took a hot fourth quarter for the Bulls to avoid the NBA record for shooting futility, 22.7 percent. They shot nearly 43 percent in the fourth quarter to bring their overall percentage to 24.7.
"This game was a learning experience," coach Bill Cartwright said.
I know I learned something. The party is over at United Center. There were empty seats by halftime as people left to get to Soldier Field to watch the true loves of their lives, the Bears, play the Eagles in their playoff contest. They had come to see Michael in a historic game against his old team. They saw neither. This wasn't the Jordan they knew, and this certainly wasn't his old Bulls.
"It was two teams trying to live up to the hype," Jordan said. "Both teams are in transition periods. You have two young teams trying to find their way in the dark. … I'm caught right in the middle of that.
"I'm not the same player I used to be," he said.
Maybe Jordan did the Chicago fans a favor. Those who long for the glory days got a reality check yesterday. If Jordan was in a Bulls uniform instead of a Wizards uniform, it still wouldn't be the championship Bulls. It would still be a bad team. It's time to get over it.
It wasn't a good day for NBC. That sound you heard across America was television sets shutting off as the game went on. It certainly wasn't a good day for Jim Gray. The sideline reporter took an elbow in the nose from Artest after the Bulls' player went flying into press row in the first quarter. Gray had to leave the arena but returned later. Since he was in pain anyway, he might as well come back to finish the game.
The reality check began the minute Jordan walked into United Center. He headed for the visitors' locker room, not the Bulls. Hanging in his locker was a Wizards uniform with No.23 on it, not a Bulls uniform. "It was strange to be in a different uniform, in a different locker room," he said.
Jordan immediately disappeared into the trainer's room, with the curtain drawn over the entrance, and a security guard assigned just to make sure the curtain stayed drawn. A large contingent of Chicago reporters waited for him to come out to talk in front of his locker, as he had for so many years in Chicago. "Tell him to get out here," one radio reporter said. They were informed that Michael doesn't do pregame interviews anymore. Times change.
The crowd didn't want times to change. When they introduced Jordan, everyone in the sold-out arena was on his feet cheering. The din continued for about two minutes, until the Bulls shut off the lights to perform the light show that introduces their own players. The spectators booed, either because they wanted to cheer Jordan some more or because they knew that soon they would have to watch the Bulls actually take the court and play.
There was no effort at all by Bulls management to acknowledge the presence of Jordan not even a video tribute. One Chicago company has been sponsoring a series of video highlights of Bulls championship moments in the first quarter of each home game. Yesterday we saw the best of Scottie Pippen, without the migraine headache.
Heck, owner Jerry Reinsdorf and Jordan's arch-enemy, general manager Jerry Krause, didn't even come to the game. "Maybe they had something else to do," Jordan joked.
I'm sure Jordan would have loved to have Reinsdorf and Krause on hand because as bad as yesterday's game was, Jordan is winning the war. The Wizards won their 19th game yesterday, equaling their total of last season with 45 games left in the season. They are one game over .500 and are in much better shape than the franchise the two Jerrys are running these days.
"We found a way to win in an ugly situation," Jordan said. "That's a big step for us."
Jordan may be doing battle on the basketball court, but his war is about the direction of a basketball franchise. "My goals are different," he said. "My goal is to teach this franchise what winning is all about."
He is doing that, and if he continues to be successful, there will be a statue of Michael Jordan outside MCI Center someday as well.

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