- The Washington Times - Friday, January 3, 2003

CHICAGO The good times and the memories are easier to forget when he's away.

But when Michael Jordan returns to United Center, sees his fans and hears those thunderous ovations, even he longs for the old days with the Chicago Bulls.

"When I'm not around here, my mind is focusing on representing my franchise. Anytime I step in this building, it's tough to see me not in red and white," Jordan said last night after his second trip to Chicago as a visitor, yet another emotional homecoming. "Tonight was different."

And yet, oh, so similar. United Center was rocking, and Jordan and his trusty sidekicks embarrassed yet another opponent. Only this time, Jordan was helping humiliate the Bulls as the Washington Wizards ran away with a 107-82 victory.

The game was so out of hand Jordan didn't even play in the fourth quarter much to the dismay of the fans. Most left after the third quarter, and the few who stuck it out spent the final minutes of the game chanting, "We want Mike! We want Mike!"

"I hate to beat Bill's team the way we beat them, but that's part of the job," Jordan said, referring to Bulls coach Bill Cartwright, his teammate on Chicago's first three championship teams. "I think sometimes it's a hard thing for the Bulls to live up to, to get that type of respect over the time they've played. Maybe they are nervous and do too much."

Jordan also had five assists and five rebounds in 30 minutes, a relatively quiet night for the man who once scored 69 in a game. But it was far better than his first homecoming last January, when he had a career-high nine turnovers and was just 7-for-21 from the floor for 16 points.

Jerry Stackhouse led the Wizards with 28 points, and Kwame Brown had 20 before being ejected with 1:19 left to play.

Jalen Rose led the Bulls with 26 points, but shadowed by Jordan most of the night, he shot just 10-of-25.

"I was going to make sure Jalen Rose didn't score while I was out there," Jordan said with a smile.

The game was never really in doubt after the first quarter. With the Wizards leading by one, Jordan made a fallaway jumper to spark a 12-2 run that gave Washington a 26-15 lead with 1:48 to play in the first.

Sparked by a Stackhouse layup, the Wizards reeled off 14 straight points in the third. The Bulls finally scored on Marcus Fizer's layup, their first basket in more than seven minutes, but Washington didn't let up.

Jordan made a pair of free throws, and Stackhouse made back-to-back baskets to cap a 20-3 run and give Washington a 79-48 lead with 1:40 left in the third. Chicago fans were so disgusted they booed the Bulls at the end of the period. One fan held up a sign saying, "Krause, this is your fault."

Though Jordan swore he'd never play for another team, Chicago fans blame general manager Jerry Krause, not Jordan, for the demise of the championship gang.

"We just weren't ready," Rose said. "We just weren't ready to play a big-time national game. We were a little bit in awe, and we didn't compete to win."

But Jordan is tough to beat when he wants to win. And these games against the Bulls mean plenty to him.

With only a Jan. 24 game left in Chicago, a sellout crowd of 23,049 was on hand to greet Jordan. Many wore his jerseys both the new and old versions and there were several signs welcoming him back.

Steve Scott, the Bulls public address announcer, altered the introductions so Jordan, not coach Doug Collins, was introduced last. With some fans already on their feet in anticipation, the rest leapt to their feet as soon as they, "From North Carolina," showering Jordan with a thunderous ovation.

"It was fantastic," Collins said. "I was so pleased and glad Bulls management allowed it to go, so the people could show their thanks. We look at him as superhuman with no emotions, but you could see that's not the case."

After a smile and a quick wave, Jordan looked down, biting his lip and chewing hard on his gum. He stole brief glances around the arena, mouthing "Thank you, thank you very much," as his teammates laughed and the crowd applauded.

He bowed his head again, but the ovation continued and he looked up, seeming almost overwhelmed.

"They gave me great appreciation today, I can't say thanks enough," he said. "It makes me feel I wish I was back in the uniform. Things have moved on and they haven't forgotten, and I certainly haven't forgotten them."

Forget him? Never. He gave Chicago six NBA titles and one of the most magical eras the city has ever had, and his adopted hometown will always adore him, regardless of whose uniform he's wearing. One fan said it best, carrying a sign that read "Thanks for the memories MJ."

The ovation could have gone on all night, and fans booed when the lights went off 2½ minutes later for the Bulls introductions.

"Believe me it was appreciated," Jordan said. "But it was a little embarrassing. The guys were waiting, like they were waiting for me to cry. I wasn't going to cry. I was appreciative, don't get me wrong. We had a game to play, but it's hard to play basketball when you got tears in your eyes."


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