At a Chicago bookstore on Saturday, 14 horses, three dozen
policemen and at least 1,500 acolytes greeted the outrageous
Dennis Rodman, who arrived on Harleyback wearing a feather boa
and full Tammy Faye Bakker makeup, the better to sign copies of
his scandalous new book, Bad As I Wanna Be, on the jacket of
which he appears naked on a motorcycle. You may yawn now.
At the United Center on Sunday, an overlooked member of the
Chicago Bulls stepped out of Rodman's (eye) shadow, scored 44
points and improbably made a name for himself. The Bull was
Michael Jordan. While his total was 11 points shy of the famous
double nickel that he hung on the New York Knicks a year ago,
Jordan's pair of fours was still a hand that "almost
single-handedly"--in the words of Chicago coach Phil
Jackson--beat New York 91-84 in Game 1 of the best-of-seven
Eastern Conference semifinal series.
The good news for Chicago's present and future playoff opponents
is this: The Bulls can be odoriferous. "They could have gotten
us easily today," Jordan said of the Knicks. Indeed, "we could
not have played much worse," said Chicago guard Steve Kerr.
Which brings us to the bad news: The Bulls won. Going away.
Without trailing after the first few minutes. There was a
one-day, half-price sale on Rolex watches, and New York still
could not afford one.
In the stands, meanwhile, 24,394 Rodmaniacs, many of them waving
tasteful signs that said things like DENNIS: MY MOM'S BRA FOR
YOUR JERSEY, had to be reminded whose statue it is that stands
outside the stadium. After all, Jordan scored his 44 despite
suffering from lower-back spasms and twice removing himself from
the game. ("No," he said afterward when asked if he was ever in
pain. "Well...yeah.") While Jordan was connecting, Chicago's
Scottie Pippen, Ron Harper and Toni Kukoc couldn't have hit snow
if they had fallen off a chairlift, shooting a combined 7 for
30. Their misfires helped New York run off 13 unanswered points
to tie the game in the third quarter. "But they never gained
full momentum by taking the lead," Jordan was quick to point
out. "No matter what runs they made, we were still in control."
That's what's so maddening about these Bulls. At their
near-worst, they may still be league-best. New York coach Jeff
Van Gundy tried to cop several mea culpas for the loss, but
surely Chicago's sheer talent had something to do with it.
Likewise, John Starks ought to have been the Knick wearing MASON
on his back, because he badly missed all nine of his shots from
the floor. "I had no rhythm," explained the volatile guard, who
looked every bit as atrocious as he did in Game 7 of the 1994
NBA Finals, when he famously went 2 for 18 against Houston and
generally displayed less rhythm than Al Gore. But surely
Starks's shooting had something to do with Ron Harper, who was
on him like static cling all evening.
The Knicks at various times threw Starks, guards Derek Harper
and Hubert Davis and forward Anthony Mason at Jordan. He ate
them all alive, with fava beans and a nice Chianti, and still
found a long spell in which to go ice cold on his outside shot.
"Harper was tapping my elbow [during my shot]," Jordan insisted.
"And the referees weren't looking at it." So he decided to start
driving and have his way on the inside. A day that began with
even mascot Benny the Bull wearing eyeliner and a feather boa
ended with Jordan again the focus of the Second City.
Did someone say Second City? "The Bulls got too many seconds,"
Mason said afterward, fingering New York's biggest problem. "Too
many second opportunities." This was a rich understatement. With
18 offensive rebounds, Chicago not only helped itself to more
seconds than Rush Limbaugh at a Red Lobster buffet, but it did
so with little help from rebounding-fool Rodman, who accounted
for only three of the offensive boards. Which says that even
when one man does all their scoring, the Bulls remain deeper
than Dostoevsky in other categories. "Sometimes you ride a horse
all game," said Ron Harper, marveling at Jordan's 44 Magnum on
Sunday evening. Agreed Pippen, "We kind of rode Michael's back
today." Is it any wonder, then, that the man was having spasms?
Indeed, as Jordan was leaving the United Center on Sunday--on his
way to receive his nightly treatment, funereally turned out in a
black suit and somber tie, with security guards fanning out on
his flanks--those Knicks who watched him recede down the tunnel
were looking at their only remaining hope: Jordan's back.
Read another way, of course, they could take little comfort from
that phrase. Jordan's back.