CHICAGO — A "bull" market usually signals rising averages of blue chip stocks and good signs for the economy. But in the world of professional basketball, a good "bull" market would mean a lower average for blue-chipper Michael Jordan.
Jordan, like the stock market, soared to dizzying heights last year. The Chicago Bulls superstar averaged 37 points per game and on good nights his numbers climbed above the 50-point mark.
But those "bull" numbers often came when the club was losing. It didn't take a genius in math to figure that when one guy does all the scoring, the others aren't doing their share.
This year, Jordan is saying, almost promising, he won't score as much. It may be a "bear" market for his average but it could signal a "bull" market for a rising number of Chicago victories.
"I don't need to score as much as last year," Jordan says. "I take a lot of pride in my handing out to my teammates. I also take a lot of pride in my defense. I didn't get the credit for that last year but I like the way I play defense."
But Jordan's NBA stock rose because of his slam dunks, acrobatic layups and long-range shooting, all part of an offensive arsenal. Chicago's attendance averages more than 13,500 even with a so-so record, due to Jordan's potential offensive fireworks.
In addition, Chicago became a hot NBA franchise not by Jordan passing off or playing good defense, but by having those spectacular scoring nights.
"We believe people want to come out and see us win, not just see Michael score a lot of points," says Bulls Coach Doug Collins. "Michael is a consummate team player. If it means he scores fewer points, he'll do it if it means more victories."
Chicago, an NBA team that has never played in the league's finals, won 40 games last year when Jordan averaged more points than any NBA player in history in a season other than Wilt Chamberlain. The Bulls also lost 42 games.
Jordan scored 3,041 points last year. He took 2,279 shots, more than double that of any of his teammates and the most in the NBA and nearly 300 more than his closest rival, Alex English of Denver. To his credit, Jordan also made 1,098 baskets, more than any three of his teammates. Jordan's high game was 61 points--no other Bull scored more than 28 points last season.
Critics suggested that other teams don't try to defense Jordan--some NBA players say it is next to impossible--and concentrate on the other four players on the court.
"You aren't going to stop Michael Jordan from getting his shots or the ball," says Boston's Larry Bird. "The key to beating them is to stop the other guys."
What Chicago has tried to do this year is surround Jordan with "other guys" who can shoot and take some of the scoring load away from the all-star guard. More important, by having other offensive weapons the opposition will have to worry about other players besides Jordan.
Where will that help come from?
John Paxson showed signs of becoming a solid offensive player last year. A good long-range shooter, Paxson benefited from double teams of Jordan to hit long-range jump shots. Paxson averaged only 11 points per game last year and hit 48% from the field.
Burly Charles Oakley, known for his rebounding, averaged 14.5 points last year. Oakley is a poor shooter--44% from the field--and doesn't figure to draw other team's concerns.
Collins is hoping newcomers Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant can provide some immediate help.
"From what we've seen in the early going, Scottie can be an offensive power for us," Collins says. "We think both Scottie and Horace can help take off some of the load."
Chicago has long been weak at center and the tandem of Artis Gilmore, now 38, and Dave Corzine, now 31, may have been able to be an effective offensive force several years ago.
"What we're looking for is some minutes from both and enough to get some offensive production to take some of the responsibility away from Michael," Collins says.
For his part, Jordan is confident the new supporting cast--Chicago has four rookies on its roster this year--will result in fewer points and more wins.
"I don't enjoy losing. I don't like it even if I score a lot of points and I come into a clubhouse that is a losing one," Jordan says. "I think this team is much better. We're capable of doing a lot of things. If it means me passing off more, great, I'll do it."