Michael Jordan's surprise appearance at a Bulls practice last week had Chicago buzzing. But after beating Bulls guard Corey Benjamin in a game of one-on-one, Jordan insisted he wasn't coming back, just boosting the spirits of his old team. "Please don't take it no further," he told a pack of breathless reporters.
Sorry, Mike. Footage of the duel with Benjamin, which Jordan won 11-9, was shown repeatedly on local news and analyzed ad nauseam on sports talk radio. Fox Sports Chicago turned the eight-minute game into a half-hour prime-time special complete with a halftime break and analysis by former Bull Norm Van Lier. "What you're going to see here is Michael setting him up for the shot," Van Lier gushed as if he were calling Game 7 of the NBA Finals.
Jordan, 36, looked sharp (if easily winded) against Benjamin, and he'd surely love the league's new scorer-friendly rules. But not even he could lead the gelded Bulls to a tide this year, and he reiterated last week that he wouldn't play for any team but Chicago: "I never see myself in another uniform." He did say, however, that he'd consider working out with the Lakers if his former coach Phil Jackson extends an invitation.
Michael against Kobe one-on-one? Cue the calliope and summon the ringmaster—the media circus might be headed west.
Sting like a Beautician
Laila Ali saw Christy Martin belting a hapless opponent on TV a couple of years ago and said, "I can do that" But can the youngest of Muhammad Ali's seven daughters really box? In her two pro bouts the 21-year-old Laila has thumped opponents who barely qualify as tomato cans.
Call them ketchup bottles: In October she beat April Fowler, a Michigan City, Ind., waitress, in 30 seconds, and on Nov. 10 knocked out Shadina Pennybaker, a bus driver and accounting student from Home-wood, N.Y. "It's tough to find competition in women's boxing," says Mike Acri, Ali's promoter.
True, only five fighters are ranked in Ali's super middleweight (168-pound limit) division of the International Female Boxing Association (IFBA), and she is not among them. Of the five fighters ranked in the same division of the International Women's Boxing Federation (IWBF), Ali ranks fifth. According to IWBF president Frankie Globuschutz, her handlers don't want her to fight anyone who might fight back. "That's O.K., but eventually she'll have to put up or shut up," says Globuschutz.
He thinks the bout that puts women's boxing on the map will be a showdown between top-ranked junior welterweights Martin and Kathy (Wildcat) Collins. "Laila has a long way to go before she reaches their level," says Globuschutz, who has contacted Ali about her eventually fighting for the vacant IWBF super middleweight crown.
Ali, who sold her Los Angeles nail salon to turn pro, comes to the women's game in a time of growth. Martin claims to have earned about $150,000 in the ring last year, and the blonde, blue-eyed Collins says she has made $35,000 in purses and more than $70,000 in endorsements so far in 1999. Even the fledgling Ali, who was whisked to Germany last week for a round of interviews with European reporters, has earned around $25,000 in her two bouts. "We just want her to keep developing, one fight at a time," says Acri. In other words the colorful and cocky Ali, who has signed an endorsement deal with Bum Equipment, can make a living as long as she keeps knocking over ketchup bottles.