Archive for Wednesday, October 18, 2000

Jordan returns to United Center

Wizards’ president of basketball operations roots against former team

October 18, 2000

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— It was just like old times. There was Michael Jordan, strolling in the back entrance to the United Center before Tuesday night's game. And there was the horde of reporters eagerly awaiting him.

"I don't miss this," Jordan said, smiling.

For the first time since he retired on Jan. 13, 1999, His Airness was back at the United Center for a basketball game.

Now don't go working yourselves into a tizzy, Chicago Bulls fans, he's not coming back. He's not even here to root for the Bulls. The Washington Wizards were in town for an exhibition game, and Jordan was here to watch them.

"I've got to support my team," said Jordan, the Wizards president of basketball operations.

And which team would that be, MJ?

"The team I work for," he said, chuckling.

And just like the old days, Jordan's team won Tuesday. Laron Profit's tip-in with two seconds left gave the Wizards a 104-103 victory over the Bulls.

Though Jordan was on hand for two of the Bulls road games last season one in Atlanta and the other in Washington, D.C. and went to one of their practices, he had yet to see his old team play on his old homecourt. He was even a no-show when the Wizards came to Chicago last April.

His only trip back to the United Center since his retirement news conference was in April 1999, and that was for a Chicago Blackhawks game.

But it's been almost two years since Jordan hung up his Nikes, and maybe he felt the time was finally right. "No," he said when asked if he considered not coming Tuesday. "Why?"

Regardless of who he's rooting for, it's nice to have him, Bulls coach Tim Floyd said. "It's always good to have all the old Bulls, but he's in a little different category," Floyd said. "I' m sure there will be a buzz and excitement about him being here."

But most fans probably didn't even know Jordan was there. He sat in a luxury box, and both boxes next to his were empty.

Jordan arrived about 30 minutes before the game started, coming in through the garage-style door on the ground floor where the visiting team bus arrives. Dressed in a gray suit, he was accompanied by Rod Higgins, the Wizards assistant general manager, and former Chicago Bears defensive end Richard Dent.

He stopped to talk with an old friend, a wheelchair-bound Bulls fan, before heading for the locker rooms. He walked past the Locker Room Club, smiling and waving at the astonished fans eating dinner. He stopped again when he saw former teammate John Paxson, now the Bulls radio analyst, greeting him with a hug.

Finally, he made his way to the visitors locker room. It's not the one he's used to entering at the United Center, and Jordan admitted it was going to be a little strange. "I imagine it will be," he said, "to be part of the opposition."

Miami Heat

Miami Much of Pat Riley's 257-page playbook is now obsolete.

Alonzo Mourning is out for the season with a kidney disease, leaving Riley and the Miami Heat searching for ways to try to replace the five-time All-Star center and last year's Defensive Player of the Year.

It won't be easy.

"I've had Zo here going on my sixth year, and everything is built around Alonzo the offense, the first look, the second look and the last look," Riley said. "Now we're going to have to make some changes. Who are going to be the main guys?"

Riley said he probably will open the season with Duane Causwell at center but will not hesitate to use Brian Grant in the middle, flanked by Anthony Mason, Dan Majerle, Eddie Jones and Tim Hardaway.

Dallas Mavericks

Dallas The Mavericks exercised their option on Dirk Nowitzki's contract for the 2001-02 season.

Nowitzki, a 7-foot forward from Germany, averaged 17.5 points and 6.5 rebounds while playing all 82 games last season. He averaged 8.2 points and 3.4 rebounds as a rookie.

Minnesota Timberwolves

Minneapolis The Minnesota Timberwolves signed former University of Minnesota guard Sam Jacobson on Tuesday.

Jacobson had signed to play this season for a Greek professional team, but was suspended for three months by the FIBA, basketball's international governing body, for testing positive for a stimulant.

According to his agent, Jacobson tested positive because he had taken an over-the-counter nasal decongestant.

Jacobson grew up in Cottage Grove and averaged 13.1 points for the Gophers from 1994-1998. He was the Los Angeles Lakers' first-round draft pick in 1998 and played 52 games last season for the Lakers and the Golden State Warriors.

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