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Jordan Set to Return to Majors : Basketball: After practicing with Bulls, he is expected to be back in NBA within a couple of weeks.

March 10, 1995|MARK HEISLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Next career: basketball?

Michael Jordan, the NBA superstar who retired unexpectedly at 30 and took up baseball at 31, is set to make another U-turn back to the Chicago Bulls, who have his No. 23 hanging in the new United Center and a statue of him in front of the building.

Jordan worked out with the Bulls on Wednesday and Thursday but drove off Thursday without comment. His Washington-based agent, David Falk, and team officials played reports down, but none of them issued a denial.

"We just have to hang tight here and wait to see what goes on," Coach Phil Jackson said.

"He and I spoke about this possibility happening last September and October. It's a reality, but it's still not a reality. So we're not pinning any hopes and we're not trying to throw up a balloon or a kite that's not ready to fly."

Said Bull and White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf: "Who knows? It could be."

Jordan is expected to take two weeks to get into shape before returning. He is reportedly set to announce this is not a short-term commitment but will last several seasons.

Jordan is said to be upset at White Sox General Manager Ron Schueler, who issued a blanket order to organization minor leaguers who didn't want to be replacement players--including Jordan--to move to the minor league clubhouse.

Jordan left the White Sox's spring training base in Sarasota, Fla., on March 2 and was due back Saturday. In Sarasota, Schueler said that if Jordan didn't report, "I'd guess that he'd be retired."

Jordan retired from the Bulls in a stunning announcement a month before training camp in the fall of 1993. At that time, he was the seven-time defending scoring champion and the Bulls were three-time defending NBA champions. He said he had been shaken by the recent murder of his father, that he had "reached the pinnacle" and wanted to spend more time with his family.

He had also been entangled in several controversies, including an allegation he had lost $1 million in golf bets. He was plainly tired of public scrutiny, repeatedly noting at his farewell news conference he wanted to get away from "you guys."

Within months, however, he was working out with the White Sox while noting baseball, which he hadn't played since high school, was his first love.

With many skeptics--including Schueler--but a doting owner, Jordan was allowed to play last season in double-A Birmingham, where he batted .202. He attended the Arizona Instructional League but made only modest strides.

There was no hint of another career switch when he left Florida, but Jordan began working out with the Bulls last week, as he had on several occasions.

This time, though, he watched film with Jackson, and teammates thought they saw a different attitude.

"He seems to be into it a little bit more," guard Steve Kerr said. "In the past, it's been just to play some basketball and see the guys. He seems more serious out there now."

Said Scottie Pippen, one of three holdovers from the Jordan teams: "I'd be happy to have any of my past teammates back."

Said B.J. Armstrong, another of the holdovers and the closest of them to Jordan: "I wouldn't be surprised with anything Michael does. He's full of surprises. I won't dare ask him personally. That's none of my business."

There are no rules barring Jordan's return. Last season he would have needed permission from the other teams to return, but now he is free to come back. His $4-million salary still counts against the Bulls' salary cap and presents no problem.

The Bulls went 55-27 without him last season and took the New York Knicks to seven games in the second round of the playoffs, but they have struggled this season. They are 30-30, sixth in the Eastern Conference.

Players around the league said they would welcome Jordan back.

Said the Houston Rockets' Hakeem Olajuwon: "He'll probably win the scoring championship."

Said the Rockets' Clyde Drexler: "He wasn't doing any good in baseball. Come on back to basketball."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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