With baseball still on strike, hockey scarcely off its lockout and football's most gifted and charismatic ballcarrier, its onetime MJ equivalent, being shuttled in handcuffs between a jail and a courtroom, the world of sports sorely craved what Jordan provided. But even he must have wondered if he was still capable of going off in such fashion—until three days earlier, in Atlanta. That's where he had fully reacquainted himself with the rhythms that in basketball come vertically, up from your feet, not horizontally, through your arms and hips, as a baseball player's do. Against the Hawks he had sunk 14 of 26 shots and scored 32 points, including the game-winning two on a hanging jumper at the horn. The performance sling-shot him on to New York, to find out, as the song says, if he could make it there.
On Tuesday the 28th, at the Bulls' game-day shootaround, the Garden is rank with the smell of elephants, the Ringling Bros, and Barnum & Bailey Circus having arrived five days earlier. But Jordan and a teammate, Ron Harper, are engaged in a game involving a different species: a version of H-O-R-S-E, half-court shots only.
"How much?" Harper asks, playing to Jordan's wagering jones.
"Fifty," says Jordan.
"I got you."
Three times they match each other, miss for miss, before Jordan bottoms one out. Then Harper launches his try into the air, and, amazingly, it too swishes through the hoop.
But here is what makes Jordan Jordan: His next shot, another 43-footer, is perfect. Harper is literally at a loss.
"Hah!" says Jordan, adding a sort of amen to an omen.
Every year the Super Bowl spends two weeks building itself up so 100 million Americans might be ritually let down. But there has been no fortnight of foreplay to Jordan's visit to the Garden, because two weeks ago he still was not officially under contract to play basketball.
As strobe lights and flashbulbs fire during warmups, the Garden is already full and charged with promise. Old hands, the ones who can recall the title fights of the Ali era and the Sinatra comeback concert held here, have a point of reference. But younger employees are thrown for a loop. "It was June all of a sudden, right in the middle of March," Chris Brienza, 30, the Knicks' director of public relations at the time, will say later. Brienza has issued credentials to some 325 members of the media (175 more than for a normal regular-season game) from a dozen countries. But only about half can be accommodated with seats, so an apology is distributed to every member of the press. "As you may have guessed," the handout begins, "tonight's Knicks-Bulls game is, shall we say, somewhat popular...."