When the clock ran out, he collapsed on the court, both arms clutching the basketball. The United Center shook with the crowd's delirious roar. All around him there was pandemonium. But Michael Jordan lay there, his body jackknifed, his eyes shut, his face registering—what? It wasn't joy, and it wasn't relief.
The Chicago Bulls had just won their fourth championship in six seasons, their first since Jordan ended his 18-month sabbatical from the NBA. But suddenly this victory was not about validating the Bulls' unprecedented 72-win season with the only ending anyone would accept. And this falling to the floor was not a spotlight-grabbing act by a smooth corporate pitchman who had left pro basketball for a quixotic tilt at baseball and then decided to come back. This was not the world's best-known athlete since Muhammad Ali celebrating another triumph of his magnificent will.
A teammate tried to pry the ball from Jordan, but Jordan wrestled it back. Another teammate piled on for a moment, but Jordan scrambled to his feet. Then, with the ball still in his grasp and a TV cameraman in hot pursuit, Jordan retreated to the Bulls' locker room. There he fell to the floor again. This time his shoulders began heaving, and he sobbed uncontrollably. A locker room attendant tentatively reached down, as if to comfort him. Then the attendant pulled back.
What do you say to a son whose murdered father couldn't be with him to share this triumph on, of all days, Father's Day?
"I had to be alone, just me and my father," Jordan said later. "My father means everything to me."