The area surrounding Chicago Stadium was still just as dreary and drab -- and depressed -- as it was the night before the debut of Michael Jordan's National Basketball Association career last Friday. Soon after the occasion of his second game the following evening, there still was no word of a reconciliation between Mayor Harold Washington and the opposition majority bloc of the Chicago City Council.
Of course, Jordan had been merely human in those games. He averaged 18.5 points, but in the first, a 109-93 victory over the Washington Bullets, the rookie shot just five of 16 from the field and nearly committed hari-kari trying to scale Jeff Ruland on a dunk attempt.
In the second game, a 108-106 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, Jordan came close to missing a dunk at a crucial point late in the fourth quarter and misfired badly on a 15-footer that could have sent the game into overtime.
But then there was the third night.
Again facing the Bucks, last Monday in Chicago, Jordan began the game waging hand-to-hand combat with Sidney Moncrief, for the last two seasons the NBA's defensive player of the year. A basket by Jordan matched the first two points of the game, scored by Moncrief. After Moncrief scored on the next trip downcourt, Jordan came back and passed for an easy basket.
By the start of the fourth quarter, Moncrief had 19 points to Jordan's 15. What happened after that could best be described as an explosion, but not one of conventional weaponry.
Jordan scored his first points of the quarter on a layup at 11:15, his last on two free throws with 10 seconds remaining. In between, working mainly out of an offensive set that looked eerily like the North Carolina four corners, there were another 18 points, including a pair of three-point plays and 20 of the Bulls' final 26 points. The performance left an entire row of NBA coaches in awe.
"I don't recall anyone ever doing anything like that to us before," Milwaukee's Don Nelson said.
"It was depressing watching it and knowing we had to play against him the next night," said Kansas City's Jack McKinney.
"All I could do was wonder what Portland's gotta be thinking about," Cleveland's George Karl said.
Portland? What about Houston? After all, before the Trail Blazers selected oft-injured center Sam Bowie, the Rockets had an opportunity to grab Jordan with the first pick of the draft. Instead they went out on a limb, taking "just" a dominant center, Akeem Olajuwon.
Now in Chicago, the mayor and city council are announcing cooperative ventures into urban renewal and the Bulls already are on their way to making some very big noises in the NBA. At least the second accomplishment can be credited to a quiet 21-year-old who likes the idea of being a decoy for his new team.
"Now people are seeing that Orlando Woolridge is a standout player, that Quintin Dailey is a standout player, that this team can contend," Jordan said. "I may be the spark plug that has brought the people here, but I'm a team player and now people are starting to get this team's message."
Which, although he would never say it, is of course, Michael Jordan. That the Bulls, winners of just 34, 28, and 27 games over the last three seasons, are now 3-2 with the promise of much more to come, is a direct result of Jordan's arrival in Chicago.
That point isn't lost on his teammates. "What can I say that hasn't already been said," asked forward Woolridge, who has averaged 27 points a game this season. "The kid has done everything for us. He's gonna be all right and the frightening thing is he don't even know how good he'll become. He don't even know."
The scary thing is, there is some room for improvement. Even with the 37-point effort against Milwaukee, Jordan hasn't been outstanding for an entire game, yet he's averaging just under 25 points with 4.8 rebounds, 5.5 assists and a team-leading 3.3 steals and two blocks.
But listening to Jordan and his father James describe Michael's Wilmington, N.C., upbringing, one gets the impression that, if it were left up to them, the world would never know what Jordan has yet to learn: how good he can be.
After the Milwaukee game Monday, James Jordan visited the Chicago locker room, nattily attired in a gray suit, not the commonplace three-piece variety, but a more stylish, tapered two-piece model.
"You like this? It's one of Michael's throwaways," he joked. "I never thought it would come to this, we were surprised that he was able to play for a big college."
"That surprised me, too," his son said. "Growing up in Wilmington, I didn't really have any role models. No one else had ever done anything like playing big time, so it was almost outrageous to think I could. It's only now that I'm starting to believe that I'm that first player, that I could be someone else's role model."
Outrageous. The word has become one of Jordan's favorites, as in, "I made a lot of outrageous plays when I was in college," as in, "The Olympics were outrageous." As in, come on now, how can this kid not know just how outrageous a player he is?
The answer is that, of course, he must know. One of the first endorsements he signed was a six-figure contract to wear Nike basketball shoes. The company then created a special black model called Air Jordan, which Michael wore during an exhibition game in New York.
Big mistake. The shoes were never seen again. While one team official called them defective, Jordan has admitted NBA Commissioner David Stern vetoed the shoe because it didn't conform to those of his teammates. Next week, though, Air Jordan will return, in white, but with a configuration that will make the shoe his own.
And Jordan likes that, just as he likes his brand-new house in north suburban Chicago and his BMW 633CSI. It's just that no matter how good a player Jordan is or will become, his parental and collegiate influences have succeeded in making him recognize the total picture first.
"I know that when I go out on the court, people are watching me and expecting big things and it's fun to be noticed like that, some people never get the chance," he says.
"But while I may stand out in the eyes of others, in mine I'm always a team player first. What I do I'd just like to think of as hard work paying off. But it is good for my mom's scrapbook, too."
Bulls Coach Kevin Loughery is concerned about what the ever-increasing size of that scrapbook is doing to opponents. "The first time we played Milwaukee," he said, "Sidney Moncrief was so pumped up I thought he would hyperventilate within the first five minutes."
That the coach isn't nearly as concerned about the effect of Jordan's attention in the Chicago locker room is a result, according to James Jordan, of Michael's "likeable attitude. It's helped him blend in with them and them with him."
"I know this is professional basketball but he's brought us that fresh collegiate attitude," says Woolridge.
Before the Bulls' Tuesday game against Kansas City (a 109-105 Chicago victory that snapped a nine-game road losing streak dating to last season), Jordan was watching films of an exhibition game played by the two clubs weeks before, yet he was able to describe plays from the game just before they appeared on the screen.
Total recall is a little easier when basketball becomes one's career. When asked what he enjoys most about his new profession, Jordan quickly answered, "No school. There's three hours of basketball a day and 21 hours of sleeping, shopping, whatever."
In Jordan's case, whatever will consist of far more than sleeping and shopping. Besides the contract with Nike, Jordan has signed to promote a brand of basketball and is in negotiations to represent a major fast-food chain, a soft drink, and an airline.
His agent, ProServ's David Falk, says Jordan is unlike any other player in basketball. "Instead of worrying if you can get any kind of deal, our big thing is making sure we're going to be selective enough," he said. "There are very few basketball players who are nationally known before they play their first professional game but Michael was because of the Olympics. Ralph Sampson got fanfare before his rookie season but Houston isn't the advertising and promotional market that Chicago is."
One person who would know all about that is guard Reggie Theus of Kansas City. When he was traded by the Bulls in February, Theus was the undisputed pinup idol in a city that is now fast becoming Michael Jordan's.
"I've been in that position -- both on and off the court -- and I envy him a bit," Theus said. "There's a rhythm to the people of Chicago and even if the team is losing, if a guy plays hard they'll love him. If he's visible and accepting of them and can be humble, too, they'll not only love him, they'll make him a star."
That's one aspect where Michael Jordan has needed very little help.