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Jordan's Last Game

April 16, 2003

I was at the gym tonight, working out (as best I could with a very sore throat) and watching some of Michael Jordan's final game for the Washington Wizards. It's been a mixed bag of emotions for me seeing Jordan play for the Wizards the past two seasons. In his prime, he was better than anyone who ever played the game. Ever. I was a Spurs and a Knicks fan; my brother Matt pulled for the Bulls. But there was no denying Jordan's ability, or his flair for the dramatic. Even in the whole "pulling against your brother's favorite team" type of rivalry (like when my Yankees beat his Orioles in the 1996 ALCS, setting back baseball in Baltimore at least 10 years), it was difficult to cheer against Jordan. He was just that amazing.

Unlike the Lakers vs. Celtics rivalry of the 1980's, there was no Western Conference nemesis to spoil Jordan's dominance of the 1990's. Consider the potpourri of opponents: Magic & the Lakers, Drexler & the Blazers, Barkley & the Suns, Peyton/Kemp & the Sonics, and then finally back-to-back wins over John Stockton, the collosal prick Karl Malone and the Utah Jazz in the Bulls' final two final runs. Jordan won his sixth and final title in dramatic fashion, hitting the winning jumper on the road to capture the crown one last time. A perfect way to fade into the sunset.

Only problem: Jordan wasn't finished. The call of the game brought him back, perhaps against his better judgment. This wasn't his first retirement (remember his 1 1/2 year stint in the White Sox minor league organization), but coming back at the age of 38 on a different team just didn't seem right. And looking back, it never was a logical fit.

The cynic in me wants to blame Doug Collins, who inexplicably couldn't win with a young Jordan or an old Jordan. In my estimation, he makes about as much sense on the sidelines as Dusty Rhodes in an announcers booth (if you wiiiill). And then there's the thought that Jordan didn't have the proper teammates in Washington, with him never quite meshing with the likes of Jerry Stackhouse and Kwame Brown (though, to be fair to Kwame, he just turned 21 last month, so give him time before you label him a "bust"). Regardless, there's a bittersweet ending for Jordan, which is a real shame. I'd like to pretend these past two seasons never happened and that he really did fade into the sunset with the Jazz-killer shot.

My favorite Jordan memory? 1989 NBA playoffs, first round vs. the Cleveland Cavs. It was the deciding Game 5, and the Bulls were down one with just seconds to play. Jordan caught the ball at the free throw line, shot, and nailed the basket as the horn sounded and the light went off. Ballgame. Jordan jumped, pumping his fist in adulation. A dejected Craig Ehlo doubled over by the announcer's table, as if punched in the stomach. The Bulls won the series, and Jordan cemented his place as a clutch player.

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