An article in the April 17 Sports section should have said that Michael Jordan helped North Carolina win its second national title in 1982, not its first. (Published 4/18/03)
76ers 107, Wizards 87
After more than 10 minutes of prodding from fans, teammates and coaches, Washington Wizards guard Michael Jordan finally got off the bench to play one last time. With 2 minutes 35 seconds left in his career, Jordan, who had been watching his teammates get overrun by the Philadelphia 76ers for most of the fourth quarter, peeled off his warmups, got on the court and was fouled intentionally by Eric Snow with 1:45 remaining.
Then he scored the final two points of his career.
The foul shots didn't mean much in the outcome of Washington's 107-87 loss to Philadelphia at sold-out First Union Center tonight. However, they meant a lot to those who have followed Jordan's every move since he burst on the radar when he hit the game-winning shot that gave the University of North Carolina its first NCAA title in 1982.
"The game didn't merit me coming back in," Jordan said. "We were 25 down. . . . They wanted to see me make a couple of baskets, then come off. That was very, very respectful."
Now, it's over.
"Basketball has been my life," said Jordan, 40, who has retired twice before. "Now it hits me that I'm not going to be in uniform anymore. That's not a terrible feeling. It's not terrible. It's something I've come to grips with and it's time. . . . When you have to give up something you love, obviously, it's an emotional situation. I dealt with it. . . . [Basketball] has been like my best friend. Sometimes you've got to grow up and move away from your best friend."
When Jordan checked out, applause rang out for more than two minutes. Fans, coaches, players, even officials cheered as the man considered to be one of the greatest players of all time walked away from the sport he played professionally for 15 years. When the final horn sounded, Jordan hugged his teammates and coaches, then walked across the court to greet 76ers Coach Larry Brown, another North Carolina product.
Snow handed him the game ball, and then Jordan was on his way to Washington's locker room for the last time.
Jordan finished with 15 points in 28 minutes. The ending was hardly as memorable as his championship-winning jumper over Utah's Bryon Russell in 1998, when Jordan won his sixth title with the Chicago Bulls before retiring a second time. But, it was one last image of a man who averaged more than 20 points in his two seasons with the Wizards, who he could not get to the playoffs either year.
Unlike his previous two retirements, which came after NBA titles, Jordan goes out on a team that finished with the same 37-45 record it posted last season, when he missed 22 games because of right knee problems.
Playing with Washington compared with the Bulls was "totally different," Jordan said. "You had a maturity level that was totally different. You had a winning attitude. Everybody understood that winning attitude. Everybody understood the dedication that it took to give up parts of yourself."
Jordan hopes to make the situation better for the Wizards next season as the team's president of basketball operations.
He will begin talks with team chairman Abe Pollin early next week about re-assuming the role as the team's top basketball executive, a position he held from January 2000 to October 2001, when he decided to play one more time.
For his career, Jordan amassed 32,292 points, 6,672 rebounds, 5,633 assists, 2,514 steals, 12,192 field goals, 6 NBA championships, 5 league most valuable player awards, fame and fortune. Jordan can take some solace that he had already secured the highest scoring average in NBA history before tonight (30.1 per game average).
"Mike made the whole thing special," Sixers guard Allen Iverson (game-high 35 points) said. "He meant everything to the game, the greatest of all time. That's a big stamp, and I think he handled it well on and off the court. There's not many perfect people in this world but, you know, he's close, and that says a lot."
The Sixers organization did its best to make sure Jordan's finale ended in grand fashion. From a pregame ceremony in which NBA greats Julius "Dr. J" Erving and Moses Malone gave Jordan a golf cart, to R&B crooner Teddy Pendergrass's singing of the national anthem, Philadelphia sent Jordan off in grand style.
Jordan returned the love. After Erving and Malone gave Jordan the golf cart, Snow, who had been emceeing the ceremony, handed the microphone to Jordan, who addressed the crowd, unlike his last game in Washington.
"Obviously you guys see the talent you have here in Philly and the talent in the league," Jordan told the crowd. "I feel as comfortable as Dr. J felt when I came into the league when he was leaving the game; that the league is in great hands. Thanks for supporting the game. Thanks for supporting me. Continued success. Good to see you Doc, Moses, World [B. Free]. Thank you very much. I appreciate it."
Shortly thereafter, Pendergrass sang a resounding version of the national anthem from his wheelchair. The crowd erupted once again. Then, in yet another surprise move, longtime Bulls public address announcer Ray Clay was brought in to introduce Jordan for the last time.
"Annnd now, from Norrrrrth Carolina, at guard, six-six, Miiiiichael Jordan!"
Jordan looked genuinely touched.
"I felt proud about what I have done over the years playing the game," Jordan said. "I think I can move on without a problem."