Later that same night PSG forward Eric Struelens made an exaggerated attempt to bump Jordan out of a post-up; in doing so the 27-year-old Belgian looked genuinely ashamed to carry out the direct order of his coach to get more physical with MJ. "I could sense he was a little bit nervous," Jordan said afterward. "I could see it wasn't in his nature to do that. It was kind of a joke to me."
The next night, as the Bulls were beating the defending European champions, Olympiakos of Greece, 104-78 to win the tournament, Jordan so badly juked a 24-year-old guard named Milan Tomic that the burn victim stood grinning after Jordan scored, which in turn caused a grin to crease Jordan's face, too. The young man had simply learned a lesson taught sooner or later to all people who encounter Jordan in the flesh. They discover that "it's not television," as Jordan puts it. "They can't change the channel."
And that genuinely surprises people who expect that he is in fact a video-game image, or a logo on a sneaker, or a hologram, or a character from a cartoon planet—all of which he is, of course. "He's the most famous athlete of his time, and perhaps, with Muhammad Ali, of any time," said NBA commissioner David Stern, who noted in Paris that replacing Jordan in the league will not be merely difficult but impossible: " Michael Jordan came along at the same time that sports marketing developed and that global television had extraordinary growth." Like the dozen broad avenues that meet at the Arc de Triomphe, any number of fortuitous thoroughfares intersected with Jordan's career, causing the commissioner to conclude glumly, "There will never be a growth spurt like that again."
Which is, on reflection, a very good thing. Because the kind of idolatry that attended the Bulls in Paris surely ought not be nurtured any further. "It becomes a labor," Jackson said of traveling with the Bulls at this peculiar time in history. "We appreciate the attention. It makes for sellouts and TV audiences and big contracts, and I find the people we meet to be, for the most part, well-meaning rather than cynical. But the constant press of the crowd, the inability to get into and out of hotels, all the autograph seekers and souvenir seekers, the people who want a piece of something, anything, that might become valuable in the future...."
These people now await the Bulls everywhere they go, precisely because the world is wired. The beneficiaries of that technology are now also its prisoners: Jordan scarcely left his fourth-floor hotel suite last week except to go to the arena. He stayed in with his wife, Juanita, and their three children: eight-year-old Jeffrey, six-year-old Marcus and four-year-old Jasmine. Jackson, meanwhile, has gone Luddite, spending his off-seasons in a Montana house that has no TV.
Or so the coach said last Thursday, when he addressed reporters at the Inter-Continental in a grand hall full of mirrors. He was seated beneath a gold-leaf chandelier that hung from a ceiling frescoed with naked cherubs. Red velvet drapes were drawn open to the sun. In another time Louis XIV would have looked right at home there. But in this age it was a basketball coach who very much belonged in the setting and a basketball player who had diamonds on the soles of his shoes.
"There is a cartoon of a little guy with a beard who walks around with a sign that says, THE END is NEAR," someone said to Bulls guard Steve Kerr last week. "Do you feel like it is coming to an end?"
"Sure it is," Kerr replied earnestly. "It's not too far off."
Whether the two men were referring to the end of the Bulls' dynasty or to the apocalypse wasn't quite clear. But anyone who spent a week with the Bulls in Paris could see this much: The end is near. One way or another, the end is very near.