CHICAGO — The sight of Michael Jordan in a Washington Wizard uniform, that won't be the hard part at United Center today. I've seen him in it before. So have the Chicago Bulls, who paid him a visit at the MCI Center 15 days ago.
I'm not ready for the new sound of Jordan at the United Center.
Whenever he was introduced to the crowd at Bull games it was in a darkened arena, with "The Eye in the Sky" blaring in the background. Public-address announcer Ray Clay would crank up the vocal cords and bellow, "Frrrommmm NORTH CAR-OLINA ... " and the rest would be inaudible, drowned out by the cheers of a packed house.
It won't sound like that when Jordan makes his return to the United Center today.
Clay wanted to "give them the full-blown Michael Jordan," as he put it. "Ninety percent of the people here remember it and want it that way," he said.
But Bull management wants it done the same way any other visitor is announced, so Clay will give a low-key intro along the lines of, "A 6-6 forward from North Carolina, Michael Jordan."
Lights on, without any music.
And from there we're not quite sure. You would expect a standing ovation for the player who gave a success-starved city six NBA championships and made the Bulls the dominant professional team of the 1990s.
"He'll probably get a bigger ovation than everybody here," Bull guard Fred Hoiberg said.
"He's the best sports figure ever to come out of Chicago, and he deserves everything he gets."
But Jordan did buy into the ownership group of the Wizards. And he chose to resume his playing career with that team. With his wife filing for divorce earlier in the month, asking for their house and custody of the kids, the feeling is Jordan's last ties to Chicago have been severed.
"I think it'll be a little bit of a cool reception, after what's been going on," said Ben Biedron, a season-ticket holder for a dozen years. "His problems with his wife and him being owner with the Washington Wizards, I think that will have an effect.
"I don't know if I'll cheer. I'll give him a couple of claps when he's introduced."
Another fan, Tomek Modzelewski, said, "People love him. Still, it's different, him being in another uniform. We can't root for him now. He's an enemy now. [However,] we'll always thank him and be grateful for what he's done for us and giving us six championships."
Whatever gratitude comes from the stands will be more than the Bulls provide. There will be no video montage or any other tribute from the team before the game.
Steve Schanwald, the Bulls' executive vice president of business operations, said the team has already erected a statue of Jordan outside the United Center and retired his jersey in an elaborate ceremony after his first retirement. They brought out the court and hosted a huge news conference when he retired for the second time, in 1999.
"We've honored Michael to death," Schanwald said. "I think it's one of those moments, it really doesn't require any artificial hype. I think sometimes, those things, it's best to let them occur naturally."
Jordan--who was sentimental enough to drop to his knees and kiss the Bulls' logo on the old Chicago Stadium court in his last appearance there--has been strangely cold as well.
"I'm in a different uniform," he said this week. "I'm with another organization, and that's just the way it is."
As much as the Bulls have feted Jordan, there's a lingering feeling that they never quite did enough. They gave him a statue, but maybe they should have named the arena after him. After all, there wouldn't have been a need to build the United Center without the seven consecutive years of sellouts Jordan created at Chicago Stadium.
At the very least, they could have found a place for him in the front office.
Much of the blame and animosity about Jordan's departure is directed toward Bull owner Jerry Reinsdorf and General Manager Jerry Krause. They sent the dynasty to an early demise, first by letting Coach Phil Jackson leave (losing a him-or-me battle with Krause), which prompted Jordan's retirement and the departure of Scottie Pippen.
Jordan has made it clear that he didn't want to quit then, and that his preference was to join the Bulls' ownership.
The Bulls' attitude toward Jordan can be downright petty. He has been practically expunged from the team's media guide, with scant mention of him outside of his numerous appearances in the team records section.
But among rank-and-file members of the organization there are no hard feelings toward Jordan.
"I'm glad he's back playing, if that's what he loves to do," said John Ligmanowski, the Bulls' longtime equipment manager.
He hasn't assigned anybody to Jordan's old locker, which stays empty in a kind of silent tribute. And he has helped the Wizards' equipment managers with the Jordan details, such as where to get his sweatbands and the fact that he likes to wear a brand-new pair of shoes every game. Ligmanowski even sent them Jordan's preferred style of athletic supporter by special delivery when they couldn't find it anywhere in Miami.
Clay, the PA announcer, said: "I'm really looking forward to him coming back. Granted, I wish he was in red and black. But blue fits him a little bit."
After all, he did wear blue when he was in college, at NORTH CAR-OLINA, as Clay would say it.
Or at least, how he used to say it.
J.A. Adande can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.