Should Michael Jordan come back to fight another day?
Television ratings boomed, backsides filled arena seats, number
23 jerseys flew off the shelves, teammates learned invaluable
lessons, and fans' pulses quickened on those evenings when Ol'
Baldy found his ancient magic. By most standards, save, quite
possibly, his own exacting ones, Michael Jordan's comeback was a
success, even though he missed 13 games with a right-knee injury
that last week forced him to shut down for the season. Still,
that doesn't answer the question: Should Jordan, who six long
months ago signed a two-year deal with the Wizards, play again
In a word: no.
Jordan has said his plan for now is to come back. But unless the
Wizards can somehow claw their way into contention in the Eastern
Conference next year--and barring a trade, they won't get the
blue-chip draft pick needed to do that--it will get increasingly
difficult to operate the franchise as a one-man band. True, nary
a public word of protest was uttered by Jordan's teammates this
season, but several of them, understandably, bristled under the
burden of living in a world that operated on Michael Standard
When Jordan played well, everyone wondered when developing stud
swingman Richard Hamilton was going to be more like Mike. When
Jordan played just O.K., everyone wondered when 20-year-old
center Kwame Brown was going to step up and be a man. When Jordan
went down--and is there a chance in the world that his by-then
40-year-old knees are going to get healthier next year?--everyone
cared only whether the superstar's end was once again nigh.
Jordan's presence did have a positive effect on guard Chris
Whitney, who says he picked up a killer instinct from Jordan's
incessant lectures on "keeping a team down when you got them
down." But Whitney, who is in his ninth season, no longer needs
to be Miked. He needs to see if MJ's lessons work even in MJ's
absence. Ditto for Hamilton. Jordan was sometimes quite generous
to the former Connecticut All-America, referring to him as the
Lone Ranger and himself as Tonto, and teaching him, as Hamilton
says, a lot about leadership and taking over at key points of the
game. But Hamilton was the seventh pick in the 1999 draft, a
franchise maker's spot; it's time for him to emerge from Jordan's
The argument against Jordan's returning has nothing to do with
tarnishing his legacy. We have record books, VCRs and our own
memories to conjure up his glory days. Rather, he should stop
playing for the sake of the franchise he's supposed to be helping
and to which he will presumably return as part owner-CEO. Jordan
was a great scorer, but he also knew when to make the pass; it's
time for him to do that now. --Jack McCallum
Flying High and Falling Low
Oct. 30 First game of season: Jordan scores 19 but misses
game-tying shot with 18 seconds left in 93-91 loss to Knicks.
Dec. 1 Tracy McGrady, who circled date before season, outscores
Jordan 26 to 15 in Orlando win.
Dec. 27 Scores six points, a career low at the time, in loss to
Dec. 29 Scores 51 in win over Hornets. Two days later hangs 45
Feb. 7 Scores 25, dishes nine assists as Wizards beat Kings and
rise to season-best five games over .500.
Feb. 12 Kobe Bryant (23 points, 15 assists, 11 rebounds)
outplays MJ (22 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds) as Lakers beat
April 2 In his final game of season, Jordan has two points in
loss to Lakers as Wizards fall to 34-40.
KENTUCKY DERBY OUTLOOK
Last week trainer Bob Baffert, a perennial presence at the
Kentucky Derby, surveyed the field of 3-year-old contenders for
this year's race from a trackside perch at Santa Anita Park and
concluded, "None of us know what we've got yet. We're going to
find out this weekend."
The weekend passed. Prep races were run in California, Illinois
and Ireland, and the Derby picture did not clear. If anything, it
was further clouded. With three weeks left until the Run for the
Roses, the only certainties are that My Old Kentucky Home will be
played and, barring a small miracle, neither Baffert nor D. Wayne
Lukas, trainer of 38 previous Derby starters, will have a horse
in the field. Everything else is wide open.
Consider: Early Derby favorite Repent had won both of his 2002
starts before racing against a weak field last Saturday in the
Illinois Derby. He lost by 6 1/2 lengths to War Emblem. On Monday,
Repent's trainer Ken McPeek announced that the colt had a chipped
bone in his left ankle, ending his Derby run. Meanwhile,
Johannesburg, the mysterious 2001 Breeders Cup Juvenile champion
who'd had an undefeated 2-year-old campaign, made his 3-year-old
debut in Sunday's Gladness Stakes in Fetherd, Ireland. It was a
daring plan for Irish trainer Aidan O'Brien--no dirt, just a
single grass race to prepare for the Derby. Too daring, it turns
out: Johannesburg was beaten a head by well-regarded 4-year-old
filly Rebelline. All signs say that Johannesburg lacks fitness
and seasoning, and that the Derby's big-field mile and a quarter
could be too much for him.
Front-runner status now falls to Came Home, who won Saturday's
Santa Anita Derby by 2 1/2 lengths. He has now won seven of eight
lifetime starts. But Came Home's pedigree suggests he won't
relish the Derby's distance, and Saturday's winning time--1:50.02
for the mile and an eighth--was the slowest in 39 years. "He's
going to have to finish a heck of a lot better than that if he's
going to win the Derby," says Gary Stevens, who rode Easy Grades
to second place. Stevens says his horse would have won if not for
a misplaced bridle strap that made it hard to control Easy Grades
through Santa Anita's two long turns.
On Saturday, Derby hopefuls Blue Burner and Saarland meet in the
Wood Memorial at Aqueduct, and Harlan's Holiday and Booklet renew
their rivalry in the Bluegrass Stakes at Keeneland, the last
major Derby preps. It's April now, and their connections want
answers. If they can't have answers, they want clues. And if they
can't have clues, they want hope. This year hope might be
enough. --Tim Layden
Lego blocks in the faux soccer stadium on display at Tokyo's
Spiral Garden to honor the World Cup finals, which begin May 31;
the 9-by-6-foot model is filled with 7,000 miniature players and
Wins for Red Sox ace Pedro Martinez since he declared that he'd
like to "drill [Babe Ruth] in the ass" last May; before beating
the Orioles on Sunday, Martinez had gone winless in eight starts
since dissing the Bambino.
Straight golf events won by Arizona sophomore Lorena Ochoa, an
NCAA record; Ochoa shot a 68 on Sunday to win the PING/ASU
NBA players--Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Hakeem Olajuwon and Bill
Walton--who've led the league in blocked shots and rebounds per
game in the same season; the Pistons' Ben Wallace led in both
categories at week's end.
Consecutive games that the Flames' Brad Werenka, who has
postconcussion syndrome, has spent on injured reserve, believed
to be an NHL record.
What do you get the baseball fan who has everything? Well, if you
really need a singular gift, you could put in a bid for Luis
Gonzalez's game-used gum. That's right, a wad of Bazooka bubble
gum chewed and spit out by the Diamondbacks' outfielder during a
spring training game is being auctioned for charity by an
enterprising sports memorabilia dealer from Minnesota. As of
Monday the bidding in the online auction, which ends April 15,
had reached a bubblicious $3,200.
If you're after a novel gift that doesn't involve someone else's
saliva, however, consider these.
Stadium Splash inflatable pools (Steiner Sports, $49.99-$99.99)
Just in time for summer come these inflatable replicas of
baseball's most famous parks: Yankee Stadium, Wrigley Field,
Fenway Park and Shea Stadium. Perfect for that Bosox fan who's
always wanted to blow up Yankee Stadium.
Baseball Spreader Set (www.everythingbaseball.com, $22.99) What
else would a hardball fan spread cheese with? The set includes
four five-inch spreaders shaped like bats and a 3.5-inch ball
Game Time Schedule Watch (Game Time, $69.95) Eager to follow
your favorite team but not motivated enough to thumb through the
paper to look up game times? Just strap on this useful
chronometer, which sounds Take Me Out to the Ballgame moments
before every one of your team's first pitches.
Baseball Jesus (catholicshopper.com, $19.95) A hand-painted
resin statue of the Lord helping a youngster adopt the proper
batting stance. As the website says, it's "the perfect gift for
every young Catholic athlete."
A Bumpy Ride
At a party for the SPORTS ILLUSTRATED swimsuit issue three years
ago, Indians pitcher Chuck Finley posed for photos with his wife,
actress Tawny Kitaen. The two, who had posed for the SI annual
that year, were all hugs and kisses and looked like that rarest
of things: a happy celebrity couple.
There was nothing happy, however, about Kitaen's April 1 arrest
on charges of spousal abuse. According to police, Finley and
Kitaen were driving to their Newport Beach, Calif., home when,
during an argument, Kitaen repeatedly kicked Finley with her high
heel shoe, cutting his right leg and arm. Police arrived at their
home after an unidentified third party called 911. Kitaen was
charged with battery, and her bail was set at $25,000. When
Finley didn't pay, Kitaen spent two days in jail before being
released. If convicted, she could face a year in prison.
Kitaen and Finley, who have two daughters, are a study in
extremes. Finley, a 16-year veteran, is quiet and consistent.
Kitaen, before meeting Finley in 1990, dated O.J. Simpson, did
drugs and danced in Whitesnake videos. In December she was
charged with vandalism after she allegedly scratched up a
stranger's car with a key. "Tawny's a beautiful, appealing
woman," says Michael Levine, her former publicist. "But she's
mercurial." Finley declined to comment after he rejoined the
Indians on Friday. Said Cleveland general manager Mark Shapiro,
"He's going through the regular ups and downs people go through
in their personal life."
STEAL THIS BOOK
Police in Coral Gables, Fla., are investigating the theft of
several Hurricanes playbooks after portions detailing Miami's
vaunted 4-3 defense were scanned and posted on the Internet last
week. The theft has earned a place alongside some famous playbook
heists of the past:
2000 Four former NFL coaches, including Buddy Ryan, sue
SportsPlayBooks.com, a site offering what the plaintiffs call
"purloined playbooks." Following a settlement, the site's
creators agree to stop selling the coaches' game plans.
1993 A few days before the Knicks-Pacers playoff series, Indiana
guard Malik Sealy leaves his playbook at a New York airport. A
fireman finds it and gives it to radio host Don Imus, who reads
it on the air. The Knicks beat the Pacers three games to one.
1973 After an FBI sting in a New Orleans hotel collars Karl
Sweetan, a former Rams quarterback who'd arranged to sell the
team's playbook to another NFL team's coach, Sweetan faces
charges of wire fraud and interstate transportation of stolen
property. A U.S. Attorney determines the playbook's minimal value
doesn't warrant an indictment. Sweetan goes on to become a dealer
in a Las Vegas casino.
1973 Before a game between Fairview (Calif.) High and rival
Westdale, Fairview quarterback Jerry Rogers begins dating Marcia
Brady, sister of Westdale's QB, in a plot to steal Westdale's
playbook. Greg Brady uncovers the scheme, but Marcia refuses to
believe it until the theft actually occurs. (For those not paying
attention, this is the classic Brady Bunch episode "Quarterback
Sneak.") --Adam White
The mayoral race in Hartlepool, England, H'Angus the Monkey, the
mascot of the Hartlepool United soccer club. Residents of the
northeast coastal town have been called Monkey Hangers since the
early 1800s, when a monkey that washed ashore was charged as a
French spy and hanged. H'Angus will run as an independent in the
May elections and has vowed to provide children with free bananas
in school if elected.
By South Korean college students as the "most unwelcome"
potential spectator at the upcoming World Cup soccer games in
South Korea, American short track speed skater Apolo Ohno. In a
poll conducted by Vox magazine, the students singled out Ohno,
who won Olympic gold in the 1,500 meters after Korean skater Kim
Dong-Sung was disqualified for blocking Ohno's path.
Sewage into snow, the managers of Australia's Mount Buller ski
resort. The resort is using a newly refined process that twins
ultrafiltration and snowmaking. According to resort spokesman
David Westphalen the waste-turned-powder is "good enough to
Athena and Phevos, the mascots for the 2004 Olympics in Athens.
Based on terra-cotta dolls popular with Greek children in the
seventh century B.C., the brother and sister pair follow in a
curious line of Olympic mascots that includes Barcelona's Cobi (a
dog), Atlanta's Izzy (an abstract cartoon figure) and Sydney's
threesome of Ollie (a kookaburra), Syd (a platypus) and Millie
To pray for the Tigers, members of St. John's Episcopal Church
in downtown Detroit. Last Thursday the Reverend Steven Kelly led
45 parishioners in asking God to stand by Tigers players,
coaches, front-office staff, stadium vendors and grounds crew. On
Monday, after falling to 0-6, Detroit fired manager Phil Garner
and general manager Randy Smith.
THE ACCIDENTAL HERO
Chloe McLeod, one of Australia's two entrants in the World Short
Track Championships, was skating training laps around Montreal's
Maurice Richard Arena last Thursday as her coach, Steven
Bradbury, urged her on. "Keep it going, Chloe," implored
Bradbury. "Test your luck. You never know."
Although McLeod would finish 33rd out of 34 skaters at the
championships last weekend, her coach's advice had resonance.
Bradbury was the unlikeliest gold medalist at the Salt Lake City
Olympics, the victor in the dramatic 1,000-meter short track
final that ended after a last-lap crash took down front-runner
Apolo Ohno and the rest of the five-man field--except Bradbury.
"I couldn't mix it with those guys. They were too fast," recalls
Bradbury, whose strategy was to hang back and wait for something
serendipitous. "The sun shines on every dog's arse sometime."
Bradbury retired from skating after that event, figuring his
career had peaked, and his life since has been a whirlwind of
celebration and newfound fame. The night he won gold, he rode on
revelers' shoulders at a watering hole called The Last Lap, where
he was again the last bloke standing. The next day the Australian
postal service said it would put him on a stamp. A week later the
mayor of Brisbane, Bradbury's hometown, held a reception in his
honor. After going his whole career without a manager, he signed
with Rob Woodhouse of Elite Sports Properties, who notes that
Bradbury "is in great demand to speak at a whole range of
All of this is a dramatic change for a laid-back 28-year-old
surfer who's never had a regular job and still lives with his
parents. Bradbury says that until Salt Lake his earnings in
skating "added up to a big zero." That's why he was thrilled to
sign an endorsement deal with an Australian beer company.
"Carlton paid me to drink their beer," says Bradbury. "I can do
that." Several salons have asked to style his hair, but Bradbury
has resisted, preferring his self-made 'do, a mop best described
as deep rough on a blond golf course.
Soon, Bradbury plans to quit coaching and take a full-time job as
a fireman. "I did what I had to for myself," he says. "Could I
explain how to follow my career blueprint? Not in a million
years, mate." --Brian Cazeneuve
From trading paint to spilling ink: Jeff Gordon will soon write
his autobiography. According to a publishing insider, a 50-page
proposal titled Jeff Gordon: Finding the Line had been making the
rounds of major houses. Last week Atria Books, a division of
Simon & Schuster, was close to signing the NASCAR star, offering
him a reported $1.2 million for the project. By comparison,
Warner Books paid Dale Earnhardt Jr. a reported $1 million last
year to write Driver #8, a memoir of his rookie season on the
circuit. That deal is turning out to be a bargain: Last week
Driver #8 was--appropriately enough--No. 8 on The New York Times
nonfiction bestseller list.... John Travolta is in talks with
Disney's Touchstone Pictures to star in a baseball drama called
Mr. 3000. In the film Travolta would play a retired Hall of Famer
who mounts a comeback after three of his hits are disallowed,
dropping him out of the 3,000-hit club. While making his return,
he rediscovers his love for the game, a quality he'd lost during
his career, when he had become a churlish diva. Disney,
encouraged by the success of The Rookie, which stars Dennis Quaid
as real-life major leaguer Jim Morris, hopes to start shooting
Mr. 3000 this summer.... Responding to a flurry of stories that
say Adidas is getting impatient because their $4 million-a-year
spokesperson, Anna Kournikova, has yet to win a tournament, the
sportswear company released a statement of support for the
20-year-old tennis vixen last week. "[The rumor] claiming Anna
Kournikova has been warned to play better by Adidas is simply not
true! She is a top symbol and important partner for Adidas." Also
showing Anna the love is current paramour Enrique Iglesias. The
Latin pop star, who hooked up with Kournikova when she filmed
steamy scenes in a video for his new single, Escape, reportedly
is having hard, clay and grass tennis courts installed at his
home in Miami. Seems like everyone wants Anna to practice more.
This Week's Sign of the Apocalypse
The Mooresville, N.C., town council has voted to let police
officers drive squad cars that are replicas of NASCAR race cars.
Cubs radio broadcaster, while interviewing Chicago reliever
Antonio Alfonseca, who has six fingers on each hand: "Were you
born that way?"