- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 25, 2003

CHICAGO The 23,215 who showed up at United Center hoping to fete Michael Jordan in his final appearance as a player in Chicago ultimately wound up cheering the performance of the Bulls' scrubs.

Chicago's reserves, led by Marcus Fizer and Eddie Robinson, scored 56 points to lead the Bulls to a 104-97 victory over Jordan's Washington Wizards. But the outcome was but a subtext of a much bigger story.

Jordan had an awful game (4-for-14, 11 points), but that wasn't really the important thing. Just having No.23 back in the house one last time was even in a Wizards uniform.

"I have a lot of memories to think about," said Jordan, who reminisced before the game with old teammates and familiar faces about what it was like in the Bulls' six-titles heyday. "There is such a short amount of time, and you can't think about it too long. But it was fun to talk to those guys and see that they are still supportive."

Though Jordan was not happy with his performance or the Wizards' loss, he said he didn't think his final game in Chicago was a failure.

"All good things must come to an end," he said. "But this will not ruin what my career stood for. It's just a game, and it's a shame that we lost. Now we just move on."

But the United Center crowd was not ready to move on so easily. The moment Jordan was announced during introductions, the building convulsed as fans jumped to their feet and began a lengthy tribute.

When the applause reached the two-minute mark, it began to intensify. And it grew louder when the arena camera projected closeups of Jordan's face on the massive video screen that hovers over the court.

Finally, when 3:20 had elapsed, Jordan was handed a microphone to address the crowd.

"Thank you," he said. "It has truly been a pleasure playing for you guys. You guys have given me a lot of memories. It's been great playing in the city of Chicago. Thank you, I love y'all very much."

The din might have lasted indefinitely if the Bulls hadn't dimmed the lights to introduce the home team. But it didn't stop there.

With about 5:56 left in the first quarter and the Bulls leading 34-32, a video tribute to Jordan featuring some of his more famous moves (think changing hands in midair in the 1991 NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers) during his 13 seasons with the Bulls. This occasioned another ovation.

Jordan took his final curtain call when Wizards coach Doug Collins removed him from the game and inserted Chicago native Bobby Simmons with 8.1 seconds left. That ovation was superseded, however, by the cheering for the Bulls at the end of the game.

Jordan has not been particularly good in his United Center appearances, scoring just 37 points for the Wizards in three games here.

Fizer, who was not a part of any Jordan's Bulls, was very good when the Bulls (16-27) needed him to be. He led the Bulls with 18 points, 17 of them in the fourth quarter.

He was most lethal at the start of the quarter, when he outscored the Wizards 11-4 by himself. This helped the Bulls get some separation between them and the Wizards, who had closed what had been an 11-point deficit to just 74-71 going into the fourth quarter.

"Before the game somebody asked me who were you concerned with, and I told them Marcus Fizer and Eddie Robinson," Collins sad. "And what did they do tonight? Fizer is so strong that if you let him get position down there, you're in trouble. He's so strong, and he has a nice shooting touch.

"That assault he hit us with in the fourth quarter we were right there, and then he put us right back into a 10-point hole," Collins continued. "We put out a great deal of energy, got the lead down, and then we had to gear it up again. We fought back, but we just couldn't get the big play when we needed it."

Fizer's strong effort help the Bulls overcome Jalen Rose's 4-for-19 performance from the field. Of the Bulls' starters, Donyell Marshall (16 points, 10 rebounds) had the best night.

Trailing by double digits for most of the night, Washington used an 8-0 run late in the game to close within 97-95 with just under two minutes left.

But Fizer answered again, hitting another basket to give the Bulls a 99-95 lead with under a minute to play. And after Larry Hughes missed a layup in traffic with 31 seconds left, Marshall pretty much decided the game when he made one of two free throws with 28.9 seconds left.

Jerry Stackhouse led the Wizards with 23 points and 10 assists. Christian Laettner finished with a season-high 21 points and grabbed 10 rebounds as Washington dropped back under the .500 mark (21-22).

Jordan didn't look particularly sharp on his first two touches of the game. The first time, Rose knocked the ball out of his hands, but he recovered. The second time he tried to make something happen, Jordan bounced the ball off of his foot and had to chase it down.

Jordan started the game just 1-for-4 from the field and didn't hit his second field goal until he canned a jumper at the 11:43 mark of the second quarter to tie it 21-21.

Neither team played well in the first quarter, but Robinson came off the Chicago bench in the second to give the Bulls somewhat of a spark. Robinson was 6-for-7 from the field and scored 13 points to help the Bulls outscore the Wizards 31-24 in the period.

Robinson's scoring helped the Bulls to a decided advantage over Washington in terms of bench productivity. With Robinson leading the way, Chicago's bench was responsible for all but 22 of Chicago's first-half points.

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