- The Washington Times - Friday, January 24, 2003

CHICAGO When the Washington Wizards team bus pulled up to the Louisiana Superdome on Wednesday, coach Doug Collins thought he would have some fun with Michael Jordan and assistant coach Patrick Ewing.
"I started teasing Patrick," Collins said. "I told the guys that this is a place that holds some special moments for some, and some not-so-special moments for others."
No one on the bus knew what Collins was talking about: Jordan's famous jumper that won the NCAA championship for North Carolina at the expense of Ewing's Georgetown Hoyas almost 21 years ago.
But tonight it will be Ewing's turn to tease. When the P.A. announcer at United Center calls Jordan's name during introductions for what will be his final game in Chicago, Ewing will watch his close friend's reaction.
"I hope he breaks down," Ewing said with a laugh following the Wizards' practice at Hoops the Gym. "I want him to cry so I can say, 'See, I told you.' No, but really, I think he'll be all right. It will be a fine sendoff for him. The crowd is going to be loud and raucous."
The schedule says tonight's game is just one more on the Wizards schedule against a team that, considering the circumstances the Wizards are 21-21, the Bulls 15-27 the Wizards should beat.
But tonight's game is special.
Jordan became "MJ" during the 13 seasons he played in Chicago, which is to say that en route to winning six titles and utterly dominating the game, he became the biggest star in a town that has produced Dick Butkus and Ernie Banks. Jordan is one of the most famous athletes in the history of the planet, and tonight the city that loves him so will finally say goodbye.
When he was in Chicago earlier this month, Jordan received a standing ovation estimated to be slightly over two minutes. When he made his first return here last season, orders came down from Bulls management which many here still blame for the breakup of the championship teams to turn the lights back on to shorten the ovation.
But this time the Bulls reached out to Jordan, who will be honored during the game with a special video presentation. And the Bulls wanted to do more, but it is believed that when they approached Jordan, he asked them to keep the celebration to a minimum.
Jordan didn't speak following yesterday's practice but it was clear that he relishes the chance to play once more for the Chicago fans.
"It's a disappointment, but yet it's fun," Jordan said earlier. "It's appreciation from the fans. The last time, [the ovation] lasted a lot longer than I expected. But I love that place.
"This will be the last time I play in front of them unless they make the playoffs and we make the playoffs and we see them somewhere down the road, which you never know. But it's truly appreciation for me to go back in front of them. Obviously, it's tough playing in a different uniform, but those things happen it's a part of the business and I take it as that. I look forward to it."
Ewing knows this will not be easy for Jordan. Despite his ties to the Washington area, Ewing fancies himself a Knick. Ewing's name is often mentioned in New York circles as the mythical "Greatest Knick of All Time," and he clearly wouldn't have it any other way.
"I played for 17 years, and 14 of them were in New York," Ewing said. "That's a long time to be anywhere, but playing there was special. Michael has a special relationship here. I know when I go back there to have my number retired, it's not going to be easy for me to control how I feel."
Ewing hasn't forgotten his glory years, and he wonders if Jordan will be able to do the same.
"I don't know how you let it go because I still haven't," said Ewing, who insists he will not come out of retirement. "You see I'm still in the sport, and he's going to do the same. He's had a fantastic career, and basketball has been so good to him. But we've got a lot of life ahead of us. We're both still young men.
Although it is pretty much impossible (though not as bad as it was last season when he ended his three-year, second retirement), Jordan has tried to keep the spotlight focused on the Wizards and not himself.
"He hasn't talked about it all that much," said guard Larry Hughes. "We know it means a lot to him, this game. But he understands that this season means a lot to the team. So to the extent that he can, he's tried to make himself secondary."
No one has been more in tune with the concept of keeping the Wizards focused. But even Collins knows this is one game in 82 where the event will actually be bigger than the game itself.
"That's not the approach you take as a coach, but c'mon," Collins said. "Michael was so great for this city. They'll be very good to him, I'm sure of it."
Notes Charles Oakley, ejected from the New Orleans game Wednesday after he and P.J. Brown had to be separated, was fined $1,000 by the league. However, according to a league source, he will not receive a suspension. … Starting power forward Christian Laettner did not practice with the team and once again is questionable for tonight. Laettner missed Wednesday's game against New Orleans with a stomach virus.

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