Jordan dribbles to precisely the same spot from which he sank his last shot, the right elbow of the foul lane. Starks tracks him all the way. Sure enough, Ewing rushes over. "I'd be lying if I said I was coming out to pass the ball," Jordan will say later. "I was coming out to score. But then Patrick came over to help...."
It's an article of basketball faith that a player who's double-teamed finds the open man. But Jordan has been so individually mesmerizing to this point that his pass to Wennington, who looks like a leper alone under the basket, seems like a revelation.
From Jackson's vantage point it looks as if Jordan has pulled an Amazing Kreskin, bending his pass around the onrushing Ewing. Starks has been so fooled by Jordan's sudden pass that, after biting on another fake, he stumbles, spraining his left ankle. From the Garden floor Starks's view must have been obscured; following the game he believes Perdue has scored the dunk that wins the game 113-111.
Before the Bulls strung together their three titles, critics returned again and again to three quibbles with Jordan: That for all his individual greatness, he wasn't a winner; that his heedless defensive wanderings left the rest of the Bulls vulnerable; and that when he was double-and triple-teamed, he couldn't reliably find his teammates. Not that he needs to, but within a few seconds Jordan provides a tidy set of refutations, one for each canard: The Bulls win. When Starks fumbles away New York's last chance in the final three seconds, it is under pressure from Jordan. And the winning shot comes on Jordan's pass.
To Jackson, a son of Pentecostal ministers and a relentless proselytizer for team play, that last act is the night's transcendent moment. "Justice," Jackson says of that pass. "Poetic justice. It brought reality and order back to the evening."
No longer able to dictate to their lavishly paid charges, NBA coaches are all social workers now. The best ones have found ways to reach their players almost subcutaneously. Jackson's style of management is particularly indirect. As he explains in his new book, Sacred Hoops: Spiritual Lessons of a Hardwood Warrior, Jackson prods and pokes, trying less to drum into each Bull a set of cold facts than to nudge him to a heightened state of awareness. As a result players often come to Jackson after they've realized what he wants them to grasp.
Several days after the Knick game Jordan approached Jackson. "I've decided to quit," he said. "What else can I do?" Jordan was kidding. But he soon became serious. Jackson had encouraged him to fire away that Tuesday night. But Jordan told Jackson that he understood how his outburst in the Garden had to be an aberration if this fragile and reconstituted team were to challenge for the title. "You've got to tell the players they can't expect me to do what I did in New York every night," Jordan said. "In our next game I want them to play as a team."
As glad as Jackson was to hear Jordan say that, things wouldn't be so easy. The whoopee over his return cleaved Jordan from his teammates. As he searched for privacy, Jordan cocooned himself inside his retinue of friends and followers—a natural and perhaps necessary reaction, but one that alienated him from the group. The confidence and trust the team had developed before Jordan's return began to dissipate. Nowhere was this more evident than in two games in the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Orlando Magic. Rust and unfamiliarity with his teammates led Jordan to bollix up critical plays late in Games 1 and 6.
To reemphasize to Jordan and Jordanaires alike their interconnectedness during those ill-fated playoffs, Jackson had read the team a favorite passage of his from Rudyard Kipling. It's a text Jackson is sure to return to this season, as the Bulls make another run for a title, this time while integrating into the team the iconoclastic personality of Dennis Rodman.
Now this is the Law of the Jungle—
as old and as true as the sky;
And the Wolf that shall keep it may prosper,
but the Wolf that shall break it must die.
As the creeper that girdles the tree trunk,
the Law runneth forward and back—
For the strength of the Pack is the Wolf,
and the strength of the Wolf is the Pack.