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SCOTT OSTLER

Jordan Lets Air Out of Feud as Only West Has Weak End

February 08, 1988|SCOTT OSTLER

CHICAGO — First, some highlights of National Basketball Assn. All-Star weekend, a real somber occasion:

--The weather. Friday, wind-chill factors in Chi-town were down to 37-below. But by Sunday the mercury had shot up almost to zero, with only light snow flurries.

Giddy Chicagoans grabbed their Frisbees and thawed out their dogs. Those not busy bagging lake-shore rays headed to Chicago Stadium, where Michael Jordan was conducting a seminar titled, "In Your Faces, Western Conference Earthlings."

--In Saturday's slam-dunk contest, Jordan's creativity was exceeded only by that of the judges, who did the finest marking since the last time Eastern Bloc judges scored the routine of a U.S. figure skater.

--Laker James Worthy, who couldn't decide whether to sit or play in the All-Star game, did both. He took a shot while sitting on the seat of his pants. Larry Bird bent over and blocked it. In your lap, sucker.

--The NBA really went big-time. Everything was corporate-sponsored--Gatorade Slam Dunk, American Airlines Three-Point Contest . . .

--Mark Aguirre got married Saturday. After Sunday's game, bride and groom left on their Gatorade/Sealy Posturepedic Honeymoon.

--On the gossip front, the alleged feud between Michael Jordan and the Isiah Thomas-Magic Johnson Axis erupted into peace. Joan Collins will not--repeat, not--be called in to mediate. Next summer, Magic, Isiah and Jordan will be seen marlin fishing together off the coast of Majorca.

A silly NBA All-Star weekend? It's all relative. Soon, all America will go ga-ga over two weeks of luge and biathlon. By comparison, this weekend was Gorbachev-Reagan.

And for the shining moments, the NBA and the world can thank a guy known to his friends as simply Air.

Michael (Air) Jordan, star of the hometown Chicago Bulls, dominated Sunday's NBA All-Star game, scoring 40 points, 2 shy of Wilt's record. Granted, some of Jordan's baskets were cheapies, coming while he was guarded by only two or three opponents.

Many of his shots, though, bordered on the incredible. In other words, routine Jordan.

"Everybody else be like in the sky," said West All-Star Xavier McDaniel, "Michael be in outer space."

Actually, though, it was a conservative game for Air.

"I love to see Michael Jordan play, see something crazy that makes you stand up and shake," said newlywed Aguirre. "On one play today he almost got there, but everything else was just basic 'jump-up-and-open-your-mouth.' He didn't have any tremblers today."

Maybe Aguirre was all trembled out from wedding-partying all night, because the Chicago fans didn't seem to have any trouble falling out of their seats when Jordan rammed home a two-hand Air-bound (Pat. Pending), or knifed through five West thugs, Walter Payton-style, for a sweet layup.

I mean, let's talk to an expert witness. How about it, Dr. J?

"Basketball is an art form of sorts," said Julius Erving, who talks more like a real doctor every day. "If a player is allowed to take a brush to canvas, something wonderful will be created. Today, something wonderful was created."

Never mind that most of the other so-called artists were finger painting on hardwood Sunday. Yes, this ultimate playground game was a little ragged. Instead of sweet paychecks, the winners should have been awarded a quart bottle of warm beer in a brown bag, to be shared equally among them.

Which makes Jordan's performance all the more special. He rose above the rabble, wearing his new line of designer sneakers. This is an incredible young man, on his way up in more ways than one.

Jordan is a humble fellow who makes about $7 million a year, mostly on shoe endorsements. He's the only guy in America who can sell ad space on the bottom of his shoes, with the possible exception of Tex Cobb.

Yet Michael still gets his hair cut by the neighborhood barber, vacuums his own rugs and irons his own shirts.

"Any women in your life?" comedian Jay Leno asked Jordan during Saturday night's NBA party. "Of course not. With all that housework, you don't have time."

Actually, Jordan is engaged. And engaging.

"It made me proud to play in front of the home fans," Michael said. "And in front of my family, fiancee and friends. They have expectations like other fans, and wish me luck. That's what friends and family are for first of all."

Michael's mom, at his side along with Michael's father during the MVP press conference said, "The moves he has do not surprise us."

Easy for you to say, Air Mom. You don't have to guard the guy.

Jordan is so nice, so clean-cut and humble, you wonder if, along with the slam-dunk and MVP trophies, he will also be awarded a basket-making merit badge.

He's so nice you wonder how he became embroiled in a simmering feud with the likes of Isiah Thomas and even Magic Johnson. Magic feels he was dragged into the feud as an innocent bystander.

That feud stuff dates back three years, and is grounded in solid fact. Isiah did snub Jordan at an All-Star game. And Jordan did think Magic had mistreated fellow North Carolina alumnus Worthy. But this weekend the feud died quietly. Isiah got many of his 15 assists feeding Air.

And Jordan and Magic are now solid as a rock. They got together Saturday night for a heart-to-heart chat.

"We've talked, we've got it all straight," Magic said. "I'm tired of all this stuff (media accounts of the rift), it's unbelievable. We talked, we're going to do each other's camps this summer. Me and him know (we're friends), that's all that matters."

Ah, a feud killed with the old hoop superstar cliche: "Let's do camps."

So Sunday night the artists departed to their respective home canvases, feuds diffused, mutual respect renewed.

And the Chicago they left behind, thanks to Michael Jordan, is a warmer place.

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