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Mark Heisler ON THE NBA

Jordan Doesn't Mind Spinning His Wheels

April 03, 2002|Mark Heisler

WASHINGTON — Eit- her Michael Jordan's comeback has encountered difficult times or he's switching sports and entering the Tour de France.

These are strange days for Jordan, now a Wizard reserve at age 38 and coming off the bench gingerly, too, after warming up his recently-'scoped left knee by pedaling away on a stationary bike that has been hauled near the bench for him, as if he's Joe Schmo at the Y.

Nor do the bike, the knee or the magic work the way they used to. Try a career-low two points in Tuesday night's 113-93 wipeout at the hands of the Lakers, in a career-low 12 minutes. And this is a 14-year career we're talking about.

On the other hand, his spirits are great. He's still out there nightly, subjecting himself to every indignity and embarrassment without complaint or compromise.

Pretty it ain't, but what could be neater than that?

"It's tough when you're going against the best and you don't have the same equipment to go against them in a sense," he said afterward.

" ... This is not the same team I played with in '98. People are still trying to compare me to that team and it's not there. This is not the [Bulls] team. I don't look over and I see [Scottie] Pippen or [Dennis] Rodman or those guys. It's a lot of young players here and I've accepted that fact.

"I knew that when I decided to come here. I understand the comparisons and the questions and whatever but I know this is a different time."

This is a way different time. Once Jordan and Phil Jackson won titles together. Tuesday, Jackson was making sure Devean George stayed on the floor against that pump-fake that Jordan tries on everyone these days, then acknowledging how painful it is to see Jordan go through this ("You know, he's rehabilitating, too, probably about four hours a day, if not more.")

This was supposed to be a big game for the Wizards, or their last stand, 21/2 games out of the No. 8 slot with time running out, and, let's face it, reason for hope.

Since Jordan's return--ahead of schedule--from his 'scope, he had failed to score 12 points in five of his six games, including Sunday's loss here to the Mavericks, after which Coach Doug Collins said Mike had been playing "on one leg."

Said Collins before Tuesday's game:

"He probably rushed back as it was. He came back because he looked at our schedule and said, 'When are we going to practice?'

"We weren't going to be able to practice. So he said, 'OK, I'm going to play minutes in a game and I'll pick it up as we go along.'

"I think what's happened, his leg has stayed irritated. The damage is out but any time you go into a joint, there's irritation.... I think he knew if he was going to play, it wasn't going to be the way he wanted it to be. But he wants to play.

"You know him well enough, he's not going to back away from a challenge, he's going to go down swinging and fighting. As long as there's life and oxygen in his body, and as long as we got a mathematical chance to make the playoffs ... "

Little remains now but a mathematical chance, but the Wiz is still going after it, which is why, with the Lakers up, 66-49, at the half, and the Wizards playing tonight in Milwaukee, Collins and Jordan decided to shut Mike down for the night.

Jordan was asked afterward if he'd ever felt they were competing with the Lakers.

"Yeah," he said, grinning, "the first three minutes. Then I think they just separated the men from the boys. I think to some degree, some of the [Wizard] players might have been in awe of their players."

Amazing as it may seem, Jordan confidantes still think he'll be back next season, citing his plans to have his other knee 'scoped over the summer, his ongoing desire to play and the fact he won't like going out this way.

And, of course, everyone will be sure that playing next season would be a terrible idea, and nothing motivates Jordan like a chance to prove everyone wrong.

In the meantime, how about this for a picture of devotion, this living legend climbing on a stationary bike, on which his personal trainer has placed a towel and a cup or water, right out in front of everyone, because that's the price he has to pay for one more night in his beloved "game of basketball."

Becoming, it ain't. Admirable it is, though, through and through.

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