- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 17, 2003

PHILADELPHIA - The chant of "We want Mike" started to reverberate throughout sold-out First Union Center with more than nine minutes left.A minute later, and a lot louder, it started again.

And then finally, the game long an afterthought, the fans, all 21,257 of them worked into a lather and standing on their feet clapping in unison, got Mike for one last time.

Jordan, retiring after this season, entered the Wizards' 107-87 loss to the 76ers with 2:35 left in the game.

Moments later, with 1:44 to play, Jordan, with flashbulbs exploding everywhere, nailed a pair of free throws, and walked off the court forever, into history, most likely to be remembered as the greatest basketball player of all time and quite possibly the world of sport's greatest icon.

The ovation lasted for 2 minutes, 20 seconds, enough time for a smiling Jordan to return to the court, wave to the fans, and call it a career.

Jordan finished with 15 points, giving him 32,292 in 1,072 career games, 142 of which he spent with the Wizards.

Washington went 74-90 in Jordan's two seasons."I feel it and I welcome it," Jordan said of the end. "I welcome the time away from the game. I can walk away happy. I've given everything to the game of basketball. I still wanted to play after the second one but I didn't want to play in the situation that was occurring in Chicago. Now, whoever asks me to come and play, I'm not ready to play. I don't want to play. It's time for me to move on. It's easier to accept that because physically I know it and I feel it. I've given everything I could to the game of basketball.

"Basketball has been my life. It gave me an outlet and gave me a chance to experience life all over the world, not just here, and it taught me a lot of things about life in terms of respect, achievement, hard work, setting goals, a lot of basic things in life."

If there ever was a game in which the final score was irrelevant, this was it, despite the fact that the 76ers needed the victory to earn home court in the first round of the playoffs.

"I wish he got 100 tonight," Philadelphia coach Larry Brown said. "I wasn't joking. I mean, I didn't know how you can play in a game like this, to be honest. But it was a great sendoff. I have been involved in this sport my whole life and there have been unbelievable players in the league, and coaches and teams. But this guy is the whole package."

At the game's conclusion, Jordan, after hugging Brown at half court, received a game ball from Sixers guard Eric Snow. It was Snow's deliberate foul on Jordan, ordered by Brown, that set up the sendoff.

With his work completed on the court, Jordan is expected to return to the Wizards' front office as president of basketball operations. He plans to discuss his role with majority owner Abe Pollin, perhaps as early as today.

On the final night of his career, all the pageantry, glamour and professionalism that was conspicuously absent at Jordan's sendoff in Washington was present in copious amounts.

It began about 15 minutes before the start of the game when Philadelphia basketball royalty Moses Malone and Julius Erving - members of the league's 50 Greatest Players and the cornerstones of the 76ers' 1983 championship - drove a new golf cart to center court and with World B. Free, also a former 76er who still works with the team, presented it to Jordan.

And unlike in Washington, where there was no microphone anywhere near the MCI Center court and Jordan was never able to acknowledge the fans, Jordan addressed the crowd in Philadelphia.

"Obviously you see the talent you have here in Philly and the talent in the league," Jordan said. "I feel as comfortable as Dr. J felt when I came into the league when he was leaving the game that the league is in great hands. Thanks for supporting the game, thanks for supporting me. Continued success. Good to see you, Doc, Moses, World. Thank you very much. I appreciate it."

The trio of former players also presented retiring Caps assistant coach John Bach with a plaque. Bach never coached in Philadelphia but did work as an assistant coach at Penn State. Jordan and assistant coach Patrick Ewing gave Bach a Rolls Royce before Monday's game in Washington.

Not long thereafter, soul-singer Teddy Pendergrass delivered a stirring version of the Star Spangled Banner brought some of the patrons seated in the expensive seats to tears.

Then there were the introductions.

Rather than have the regular public address announcer introduce Jordan, the Sixers smartly handed that job over to Ray Clay, the longtime Bulls announcer who introduced Jordan at both Chicago Stadium and United Center.

"From North Carolina, at guard, 6-6, Michael Joooordannnnnn," roared Clay, whom the Sixers flew in to introduce Jordan and Jordan only.During breaks in the action, highlights of Jordan's career were shown on the Jumbotron.

A host of celebrities attended the game, including comedian Bill Cosby, Tampa Bay Buccaneer Warren Sapp, ex-Jordan teammate Ron Harper and Jordan's most famous commercial-making pal, Spike Lee, decked out in a Bullets jersey. Of course, none of this seemed to inspire the Wizards on the basketball court. They trailed by 11 points at the end of the first quarter and by 10 at halftime. Losers of 14 of their final 21 games, the Wizards were never in contention.

However, the ultimate tribute to Jordan was delivered by Allen Iverson, who led the Sixers with 35 points, six assists and six rebounds.

"Mike made the whole thing special," Iverson said. "It was greatly deserved. He meant everything to the game. He's the greatest player of all time. That's a big stamp and I think he just handled it well on and off the court. There aren't too many perfect people in this world, but, you know. He's close. And that says a lot."

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