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MICHAEL JORDAN : AIRING IT OUT : Bulls' Guard Has Been Soaring and Scoring So High, Lakers Might Need an Ozone Defense

November 28, 1986|GORDON EDES | Times Staff Writer

After practicing Thursday afternoon, the Chicago Bulls ate their Thanksgiving dinner together at an airport-area hotel.

Michael Jordan didn't stuff the turkey.

He didn't jam the yams, either, or double-pump the gravy bowl, or pass the cranberry sauce with a spinning 360-degree, midair, thank-you-very-much-I'm-ready-for-dessert-now move.

He even remained in his chair, rather than eating a foot or so above his teammates.

"Fly? I don't know, but when I do I'll let you know," said Jordan, asked when he plans to abandon the pretense of being gravity-bound like the rest of us.

"I'm getting close," he said. "I remember one game in Milwaukee last year--I've got it on tape--where it looks just like I'm taking off.

"I stole the ball, and I'm rising up, then I just stop in midair, and start my descent. I shot the ball coming down."

For now, Jordan is still required to return to Earth. Last season, a broken bone in his left foot grounded the 6-foot 6-inch Bulls' guard for 64 games. The Bulls were content to wait even longer, but not Jordan, who had been playing pickup games with his buddies back in Chapel Hill, N.C.

He embarrassed the Bulls into letting him play again, then stunned the basketball world with a 63-point playoff performance against the Boston Celtics.

The Bulls lost, but Celtic star Larry Bird, who knew Jordan had been to the mountaintop, came away a believer. "God disguised as Michael Jordan," Bird said.

As a college freshman at North Carolina, Jordan had won an National Collegiate Athletic Assn. title with a last-minute shot against Patrick Ewing and Georgetown.

As an Olympian, he had helped Coach Bob Knight's 1984 U.S. team win a gold medal.

As a one-man conglomerate, Jordan had become a multimillionaire through the marketing of Nike's Air Jordans, a new Italian-made version of which now retails for a cool $100.

By recent estimates, Nike has sold more than 2 million pairs of Air Jordans, and $100-million worth of the entire line of shoes and clothes, including a stylish sweat suit bearing the Michael Jordan signature. Jordan was wearing one Thursday while getting his feet taped in the hotel room of Bull trainer Mark Pfeil.

Jordan also has long-term endorsement contracts with Wilson (basketballs), McDonald's and Coca-Cola. The New York Times devoted an article to Jordan in its Sunday magazine, with the headline, "The Selling of Michael Jordan."

"Michael Jordan has a charisma that transcends his sport," said Donald Dell of ProServ, the management agency that represents Jordan. "He belongs in a category with Arnold Palmer or Arthur Ashe."

But while Jordan obviously thrives as a soloist in the business world, the skeptics were certain there was no way he could thrive in the NBA as a one-man team.

Quick quiz: Granville Waiters is:

a) a Civil War battle site;

b) a correspondence school for aspiring maitre d's;

c) a three-year bench-warmer, with even less hair than Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, miraculously transformed into the Bulls' starting center.

The answer is c.

There were eight new faces on the Bulls' roster at the start of this season, most of whom spent more time riding pine than dribbling on parquet floors. That didn't include the new coach, Doug Collins.

According to the wise guys, the Bulls, winners of just 30 games last season, would require more than Jordan's skywriting to author a better record this season.

And how would Jordan cope with the constant double- and triple-teaming he would face?

So far, Jordan hasn't coped. He's conquered. He scored 50 points in an opening-night win over the New York Knicks, setting a Madison Square Garden record for points by an opposing player.

The next night, 41 against Cleveland. A 37-point average in the Bulls' first 11 games. And most incredible of all, in a 101-99 win over the Knicks last Friday night, Jordan scored the Bulls' final 18 points, including an 18-foot jumper with a second left for the game-winning hoop.

"Eighteen points in a row during crunch time--what else can you say?" Knick Coach Hubie Brown said afterward.

Jordan didn't say anything until a reporter informed him of what he'd just done.

"I didn't know what was happening," Jordan said. "I was surprised. I was amazed. You mean, I was the only guy that scored the last quarter?

"The fourth quarter, I seem to concentrate more. My desire to win is unreal. I think once we get to the fourth quarter, I don't think the team looks for me more. I just get a lot of open shots, and I create a lot, too."

And the Bulls, so far, have been winning, though they lost, 109-107, to Denver Wednesday night. They play the Lakers tonight at the Forum.

Collins calls Jordan the greatest player he has ever seen. "I've played with Julius Erving and Billy Cunningham, and Michael is better," he said recently.

Collins sells his team on a simple stratagem. Keep the game close for three quarters, then something spectacular is bound to happen.

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