- The Washington Times - Friday, January 4, 2002

The difference between the Chicago Bulls team Michael Jordan once played for and the one he will face tonight for the first time in his career is testimony, despite how the organization tries to spin it, to how vital he was to the franchise.
In 13 seasons with Chicago, Jordan led the Bulls to six championships, six Central Division titles, 679 regular-season victories, and through 179 playoff games.
In the three-plus seasons since he retired in 1998, the Bulls never have finished higher than last in the division, and lug a 51-193 record during that span into tonight's game with the surging Wizards (16-14). At 6-24, Chicago is the worst team in the league.
Jordan, who missed yesterday's practice with a sinus condition, said earlier that he places no special emphasis on tonight's game.
"Not really," Jordan said. "I'd rather win it. Obviously you want to play well. There's no set standard in terms of how you play. Ultimately, I just want to win it. Those are the two factors. I don't want to lose the game. Chicago's no different. I want to play good and I want to win."
Despite what Jordan says, one player who could be in for a long night is Chicago small forward Ron Artest. A Jordan workout buddy this summer who accidentally broke a pair of Jordan's ribs as he prepared for his comeback, Artest has been keeping an eye on the hot Jordan in recent days. Like everyone else, he knows Jordan is coming off back-to-back games of 51 and 45 points.
"He's been scoring in the 40s and 50s. I'm afraid he's going to try to give me 70. I'm going to try to give him 70, too," Artest said. "He's amazing. He's 38, but he's got a great body, though. He's taking care of it. He was in shape this summer. He'd be working out early, get to the games at 2, then work out after the game."
Jordan is just 15 points shy of joining Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain and Karl Malone as the only players to reach the 30,000-point plateau.
Bill Cartwright, who replaced Tim Floyd as coach on Dec.28, was the starting center on three of the Bulls' six championship teams and a teammate of Jordan's for five seasons. He's not surprised Jordan recently has been on a tear, and he doesn't buy into this being just another game for Jordan.
"It's a lot of points. It'd be a lot of points for any player. But we know that Michael has the potential to do the abnormal. Still, it's impressive. If anybody can come back and play and play well, it's him," Cartwright said.
"Is it another game? No. For our guys, it will be a fun game to play. They're looking forward to it. And of course everybody wants to beat your old team. We just want to be smart. If he's going to score, we want it to be on a tough shot, not a layup or not from the free throw line."
Power forward Charles Oakley spent three seasons with Jordan and the Bulls (1985-1988) and he's back in Chicago albeit begrudgingly for the first time in 13 seasons. Oakley would have preferred that talk of a diminished Jordan had never surfaced in the first place.
"You all talk bad about the guy because he can't dunk or do what he used to do. He ain't downhill yet," Oakley said. "You all want to get Jordan started. You've got to keep quiet. He knows we're coming."


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