- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 2, 2003

When Michael Jordan returned to Chicago in an enemy uniform for the first time last season, emotions ran so high that Jordan, who led the Bulls to six NBA titles, shed a tear during player introductions.
But Jordan promises there will be none of that today when the Wizards make their first of two appearances at United Center this season in Jordan's final season before he returns to the Wizards' front office.
To hear Jordan tell it, there are no permanent ties to be cut between him and the franchise he took to its highest heights.
"They've taken different turns," Jordan said following the Wizards' huge New Year's Eve victory over San Antonio. "I'm here; I've gotten a year removed from that. [Chicago is] still always going to be home for me, and the fans there are people I'm always going to have high regard for. They built my career basically with their support.
"But I'm going back now as someone who is trying to beat their team," Jordan continued. "So I imagine that they are going to have the same respect, but they are going to be very loyal [to the Bulls]. But personally, I think we have a very good chance of moving in the right direction."
That is also what the Bulls are trying to do. Instead of residing in the basement of the Central Division, the Bulls, in a state of disarray since Jordan left in 1998, are actually talking about the playoffs this season despite being nine games below .500 (11-20). And they would love to knock off the Wizards, not because of Jordan but because they trail Washington by just 3 games in the race for the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
The Bulls, Jordan says, are not a team the Wizards can afford to take for granted.
"That team plays hard. If you go in there thinking that they're bottom dwellers, then you're going to end up getting beat," Jordan said.
One of the obvious questions surrounding Jordan's return to Chicago is how he compares to the player who returned there last season. He isn't scoring as much this season (17.1 points) as he did last season (22.9), and he has at times looked the way a player about to turn 40 is expected to look against younger competition. Still, that doesn't mean the Bulls view Jordan as any less of a threat.
"I think M.J. has played well," Bulls coach and former teammate Bill Cartwright said. "I don't view his play as being poor by any stretch of the imagination. The guy is still pretty good. He can still make a shot, make a play. He still guards. He looks pretty good to me."
Cartwright won three titles alongside Jordan (1991-93) during his six-year stint with Chicago. He has heard the Internet chatter about Jordan tarnishing his legacy and seen the "unimaginative" work by columnists who have written that he has tarnished his legacy, and he is tired of it all.
"I think Michael should do whatever he wants to do," Cartwright said. "If he wants to continue playing basketball for another 10 years, I think it's great."
Chicago's leading scorer, Jalen Rose (22.8), remembers a different Jordan, though, and can't help but notice the difference.
"He's not winning 72 games, and he's not winning championships," Rose said. "He's not the Michael Jordan I grew up watching."
Meanwhile, Wizards coach Doug Collins was thrilled by the 105-103 victory over the Spurs. Collins was thrilled to see the Wizards play a complete game that culminated with a win over a quality opponent.
What Collins and Jordan both want is for the Wizards to build momentum for the second half of the season beginning tonight. The last thing they want to do is follow up a big win with a loss against a lesser team.
"The joy of those players walking off the floor and into the locker room and seeing the feeling and excitement they had, this is what we have to grow on," Collins said. "There is no greater feeling in sports than beating a team, playing against a good team, playing hard and getting a win.
"I want our guys to feel that feeling. When you feel that feeling, then you want more of it. And I hope that's what's going to happen to us in the second half of the season."


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