Editor’s note: This column originally published on Dec. 30, 1992.
It’s easy to get tired of Michael Jordan. Some of what makes us tired is his fault. Gambling for big bucks wasn’t dumb, but gambling for big bucks – a dollar a hole doesn’t cut it with millionaires – with professionals was.
And it did appear that Jordan was less than gracious with some of his teammates. The main reason we get tired of him, however, is that he is everywhere.
If he’s not on the court, he’s in the newspaper or peddling underwear on TV. He and his team have won two straight NBA championships.
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Teams that win championships attract attention, and flaws are blatantly exposed. But I’ll tell you, if you want to just sit back and watch a professional basketball player, there’s still nobody as good as Jordan and no team as good as the Chicago Bulls.
At Charlotte Coliseum Tuesday, the Bulls beat the Charlotte Hornets for the 17th straight time, and the Bulls played so well early that even the obnoxious fans had to shut up.
Jordan said that when the fans stop yelling, the teams “are on an even keel.”
Not true. There was nothing even about this one.
The Bulls are the team the Hornets would like to be. Right now, they are the team the Bulls were several years ago, demonstrating occasional pluck and talent but often getting beat along the way.
“They’ve got the right players,” said Jordan. “But they’re young. It’s the maturity of the players that develops into the nucleus that we have.”
Chicago got that nucleus the same year Charlotte got an NBA franchise. The Bulls might bicker, but they know each other. They know their jobs, and they know what they have to do to win on the road, where fans lust for a victory by the home team, but not until they get autographs from and snapshots of the visitors.
Jordan, who is 29, did nothing Tuesday that fans who regularly come to the Coliseum would would include on a highlight reel. He scored 28 points, grabbed 12 rebounds, had 11 assists.
He never dunked, never tried to. He figured out what the Bulls needed and he did it, usually with elegance, but never with flash. He liked his game.
“It’s something to be proud of, even though I didn’t shoot the ball particularly well,” said Jordan, who sat behind a table in the Bulls locker room that served as a buffer between him and the press.
Security guards had to warn reporters not to ask for autographs. A reporter who asks for an autograph shouldn’t be fired. He should be hurt. But some can not restrain themselves when Jordan comes to town. When the Milwaukee Bucks come, however, restraint is admirable.
“I believe I contributed enough offense for everybody else and helped Horace (Grant) on the boards because he was battling Larry Johnson,” said Jordan.
Jordan was only nine of 25 from the field - this season he is hitting less than half his shots, and he has hit at least 51 percent of them for five straight seasons - but some of the shots he took were probably for the 55 friends, fans and relatives for whom he found tickets. He might even have taken one or two shots for strangers.
Good seats were going for $250 early Tuesday, bad seats for $40. Fans gave Jordan an ovation before the game, and they hung over the rails behind the Coliseum to shout his name after it.
Jordan was escorted to the team bus by eight security guards and one Charlotte police officer. Your tax dollars at work. Grant got one security officer, as did Scottie Pippen.
The Hornets didn’t ask for autographs, but they were somewhere between awed and reluctant. They knew Chicago had beaten them 16 straight before this one. So did the Bulls.
“You lose 17 in a row and there’s some uncertainty, some doubt,” said Jordan. “Once you get that confidence, that’s when the ball starts to roll.”
There are times when Jordan talks about basketball as if he is going though a midlife crisis, as if it isn’t fun anymore. That would be sad. He still plays with such joy. Still like your work?
“Oh yeah,” said Jordan, smiling. “It’s still a lot of fun.”