Michael Jordan is piling up his career point total, but he may be fouling out as a husband.

His wife, Juanita, 42, has filed for divorce to end her 12-year marriage to the basketball superstar, citing "irreconcilable differences." She seeks permanent custody of the couple's three children, half of their extensive marital property and all 25,000 square feet of the family mansion in Chicago's ritzy Highland Park.

"It is the parties' hope that the media respect the family's need and desire for privacy in this painful matter," Juanita Jordan's lawyer, Don Schiller, told the Chicago Tribune yesterday.

Reached last night, Jordan declined to comment. His attorneys were expected to issue a statement today.

The 38-year-old Washington Wizards forward had a net worth of about $400 million in September 2001, according to Fortune magazine. He donates his $1 million salary from the Wizards to a Sept. 11 charity.

Juanita Vanoy and Michael Jordan met at a Bennigan's near Chicago in the late '80s. She was a loan officer at a bank; he already was an electrifying player for the Bulls. One of the things he liked about her, Jordan said in "Taking to the Air," a 1992 biography, was that he noticed her, rather than her sidling up to him.

They married in September 1989, at 3:30 a.m. at the Little Wedding Chapel in Las Vegas. The bride and groom wore jeans. He gave her a five-carat diamond. She gave him a three-carat diamond. They already were parents of Jeffrey, now 13. Marques is 11, and their daughter, Jasmine, is 9.

When Jordan retired from the Bulls in 1993, he said he wanted to spend more time with his family. "It's time to be little bit unselfish," he said, but soon he was on the road as a minor league baseball player.

That career change was short-lived, however, and he later returned to the Bulls. When he retired from the team a second time, in 1999, he again said he would hunker down as a family man. "I see Michael doing more carpooling," Juanita joked, in one of her rare appearances by his side. He took a front-office job with the Wizards, but this season took to the court again, leading the team at his familiar forward position. His wife has come to Washington only rarely since his return as a player.

"She was the one who, after they got married, helped him put some space between him and his public," said Jim Naughton, who wrote "Taking to the Air." And Jordan readily admitted that. "She is the more stern side of the relationship," he told Naughton, "and I like that."

Last summer, when Jordan was contemplating his current comeback, Fred Whitfield, a Wizards official and friend of Jordan's since his high school playing days, said: "He has to consider his family, and he has to consider what's best for the organization. But it's a personal thing for him, and I don't think anybody at all will influence him, except maybe his wife. Their relationship is a very, very personal relationship, and she has always been the supportive wife that's obviously heard, but heard in private."

"I have no problem saying no," Juanita Jordan told Ebony magazine 10 years ago. "If someone didn't step up and say no, there would be no time for his family. . . . I know it makes me look like a bitch, but I can't worry about it, because I'm protecting what we have. If that is what I have to be, then I will be a bitch."

Staff writer Sally Jenkins contributed to this report.

Michael and Juanita, so happy together in '99 when Jordan retired, again, from the Chicago Bulls.The Jordans, who have been married for more than 12 years and have three children, at the Essence Awards last April.