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55
Alexander Wolff
November 13, 1995
Last spring, the newly unretired Michael Jordan lit up Manhattan, the Knicks and the NBA itself with what may have been the most thrilling performance of his career
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November 13, 1995

55

Last spring, the newly unretired Michael Jordan lit up Manhattan, the Knicks and the NBA itself with what may have been the most thrilling performance of his career

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Midway through the quarter, on consecutive baskets, Jordan knocks down two shots that are mirror images of one another: He takes two dribbles to his right, soars and feathers in a jumper (10 points now), then takes two dribbles to his left, leaps and sinks another (13 and counting). It's as if he's a basketball camper doing station drills, and the Knicks scarcely exist.

Here, finally, New York decides to dispatch some help to Starks. When Jordan next catches the ball on the low block, he finds Ewing rushing at him. Jordan spins to avoid the double team but, sealed off by the baseline, he's forced to leap up and throw a pass that's picked off.

In spite of this momentary success, the Knicks call off the double team. The move baffles Jackson, but New York coach Pat Riley has his reasons: In spite of Jordan's performance so far, the Knicks hold the lead and will for most of the game, at one point by as many as 14. And there's no team in basketball more adept than the Bulls at swinging the ball out of a double team and into the hands of an open shooter. "Their shooters and their spacing are so good," Riley will say, "that if you start running all over the place, they're going to get everything."

As the quarter winds down, Jordan seems joyous with each touch of the ball. One time he seems to bring his right knee up, in a sort of mummer's strut, as he rises into his shot (15 points now). "It's rare that players can live quite up to New York," Jackson, himself a former Knick, says later. "I've seen a lot of them fall flat on their faces because of the pressure to perform there. But he had the whole evening in the palm of his hand. Sometimes the game just seems to gravitate into his grasp."

At one point the Knicks throw a new jersey at him, 6'8" forward Anthony Bonner. Jordan has schooled the smaller Starks on the blocks; Gulliver here he takes outside, draining his longest jumper of the evening thus far, with a little leftward float thrown in to make it interesting (17 points). Then he bottoms out a three-pointer, only the second of 11 attempted treys to this point in his comeback (20 points). The Knicks lead at the quarter 34-31, but Jordan has sunk nine of 11 shots.

"I'm going to miss him," Starks had said upon hearing of Jordan's retirement. "He brought out the best in me."

"I think he forgot how to play me," Jordan will say after the game.

So many celebrities are in the Garden that if the Oscars hadn't taken place in Los Angeles the night before, the whole country might be listing alarmingly to starboard. The usual potted plants, Knick regulars Woody Allen and Spike Lee, are rustling their leaves courtside. Tom Brokaw, Peter Falk, Bill Murray, Diane Sawyer and Damon Wayans all have taken the trouble to rearrange their busy schedules. There's Christopher Reeve, pre-accident, and Mario Cuomo, post-Pataki. And tonight the stars seem to come in pairs. Phil and Mario. Connie and Maury. Lawrence Taylor and fellow pro wrestler Diesel. Even pairs that should be together: Itzhak Perlman, recording artist, and Earl (the Pearl) Monroe, now a recording executive.

As Jordan goes for the speed limit, announcer Al Trautwig, working the sidelines for MSG Network, approaches a large man sitting courtside. "Excuse me," he asks. "Are you Al Cowlings?"

In spite of having its own financial market and international flights to 65 cities, Chicago has a woeful dearth of celebrities. Joe Mantegna and Oprah can only take a town so far. Chicago is so star-poor that, months later on Monday Night Football, a Bear fan diving 30 feet from the stands in pursuit of an extra point will end up with the same agent as Jim McMahon.

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