Uncasville, Conn. When you own a closet full of Air Jordans and you grow up watching "Come Fly With Me," of course you're going to be in awe your first time on the court with His Airness.
"It's real. Everything you see, all the hype, it's him," 20-year-old Celtics rookie guard Joseph Forte said after Boston's 107-93 exhibition victory over the Wizards Friday. "It was fun. From one standpoint, me being a fan of the game and growing up watching him, then the competitiveness in me, just to go at the best, that was fun."
Forte didn't get much attention from Jordan. The rookie floated a short jumper over Jordan in the second quarter, though the five-time NBA MVP and six-time champion did leave Forte reaching for Air when he came down the lane on a fast break later in the period.
Forte reported that Jordan, one of the game's biggest talkers, spared him verbal jabs. "He was just like, 'What's up Mr. Forte,' that type of deal,'' he said.
Jordan didn't say anything to another Celtics rookie, Joe Johnson. He just let the nets do the talking.
With about a minute and a half left in the first quarter, Jordan crossed over Johnson along the baseline and scored an easy layup. A few moments later, Jordan did his signature hop-step hesitation dribble and hit a pull-up jumper from about 19 feet over Johnson.
"It was intense. Any time Mike steps on the floor he plays hard," said Johnson, who had no idea he'd be guarding the greatest player ever when he left the University of Arkansas after his sophomore season.
"I don't think he gave us rookies any slack. It was a challenge, and I think all of us stood up to it."
Especially Paul Pierce. Pierce and Jordan staged an entertaining battle in the third quarter, fighting for post position and exchanging pleasantries (which Pierce politely declined to share) on their way down the floor.
"Jordan at this age (38) is better than about 90 percent of the players today," Pierce, a former Kansas forward said. "He's so smart out there, he tries to get psychological advantages. He knows the little things of the game, to where he could go out there and probably still lead the league in scoring."
Their competition became a game within the game, with both players demanding the ball from teammates.
Jordan hit two 18-footers and banked in a three-pointer with Pierce guarding him, revenge for Pierce shaking Jordan with a nice crossover, stepping back, and draining a long corner jumper over him in the second quarter.
The two stars became physical with each other until Pierce drew a technical early in the third for complaining that Jordan led a drive with his head.
Jordan finished with 21 points on 9-for-21 shooting, and Pierce 19 on 5-of-10 shooting.
"Paul has a lot of heart,
said Antoine Walker. "Nobody in the league is going to back down, because they're able to give it back to him on the other end.
"But he's not going to back down, either."
"It was just good competition," Jordan said. ''Paul's been looking forward to this chance, and quite frankly, I have, too. We're going to resume this Nov. 7. He has to realize that I'm coming at him, too. Nov. 7 should be a good game."