Michael Jordan’s team beat Jerry Krause’s collection of mistakes, juveniles and coach-killers last night.
Jordan scored 29 points, including the 30,000th of his career, as the Wizards defeated the helpless visitors from Chicago 89-83.
It was the first of four meetings this season between Jordan and his former employer, and even coach Doug Collins felt the tension.
“It was the first time I’ve come to a game with a knot in my stomach,” Collins said. “I just wanted to win this game, because I knew how important it was to Michael.”
Jordan scored 25 points in the first half as the suddenly formidable hosts fashioned a 20-point lead. Krause, who made the trip to Fun Street, probably was looking for a place to hide about then.
They go way back, Jordan and Krause, the pop icon and the rumpled executive, uneasy partners through six NBA championships in the ‘90s. Their split was not amicable. Jordan felt unloved, unneeded and unappreciated.
Look who’s smirking now.
Krause, who leads the NBA in chins, is said to have hastened the breakup of the championship Bulls. His rush to fix perfection has resulted in a massive dose of irrelevance for the franchise. The Bulls are so last century, their short-term prospects grim. The Bulls are working on a 6-25 record this season, which is consistent with their previous efforts in the post-Jordan era. They were 15-67 last season, 17-65 two seasons ago and 13-37 in the lockout-abbreviated 1999 season. It adds up to 51 wins, about three-fourths of a season’s work by Jordan’s standards when he was in Chicago.
Krause’s reputation around the NBA is not the best, possibly because Jordan and the Zen master play the aggrieved parties. The mustard stain on the lapel of Krause’s coat does not help, either.
Bill Cartwright, one of Jordan’s former teammates, is the new face of the organization, deemed innocent until the losses begin to accumulate. He had an awkward-looking jump shot and a bad goatee back in his playing days. He also took notes under Tim Floyd, Krause’s old fishing buddy. He must have a strong stomach.
It can’t be easy with this no-win mixture of over-the-hill types, never-weres and the inexperienced.
The Wizards took a 10-0 lead before Jordan found it necessary to clear his throat. The Bulls put up minimal resistance from there. Ron Mercer hit a few shots, and Ron Artest appeared to have some interest in defending Jordan, trying to muscle him, trying to push him off the low post.
Jordan was cold early, somewhat out of sorts, after coming down with the sniffles the day before the game. Then he went to work, and there was not a lot the Bulls could do in response. They are not merely a bad road team. They are utterly futile, winless in 17 road games this season.
Jordan has scored 51 points, 45 and 29 in his last three games, redefining who he is yet again while flashing his power on the court. He is, perhaps, in the process of making the Wizards almost legitimate, no easy achievement for a team that was 19-63 last season. The Wizards have a 17-14 record and a suspicion that their best basketball is up ahead, tied to the return of Richard Hamilton and Christian Laettner.
It was a sweet night for Jordan. He joined the 30,000-point club while making a point to his ex-employer. His timing was impeccable, even as his shot went awry late. He made only one of nine field goal attempts in the second half, and the Wizards struggled.
The Bulls made a run, as NBA teams do, closing to 85-78 late in the game. Jordan hit two free throw attempts with 1:54 left to put the Wizards up by nine points.
Jordan made a defensive gem in the waning seconds, despite being fatigued. Disgusted after not getting a foul call, Jordan hustled down the floor and grabbed Mercer’s layup attempt off the glass.
“I don’t know where that came from,” Collins said. “He was dead on his feet. That is the competitiveness in him. That is who he is.”
They only have a statue of Jordan at the United Center in Chicago. Thanks to Krause, Washington has the real thing, all 38 years old of him.
That makes all the difference.