Numbers tell part of the Jordan story. At week's end he was the NBA's sixth leading scorer with a 25.6 average (his season high, 45, coming against San Antonio on Nov. 13) and ranked fourth in rebounding among guards. Though he plays some small forward, Jordan has so thoroughly blurred the distinction between big and little men that as of Sunday he led the league in steals (2.74 a game) and the Bulls in blocked shots (1.58 a game).
But images are overwhelming the numbers. Jordan has become a TV staple. His adventures in Newtonian revisionism keep the sports producers on late-night news programs awash in videotape. For some reason, WTBS and CBS, who have scheduled 55 and 10 national NBA regular-season telecasts, respectively, are featuring the Bulls and Jordan only once (it was a Nov. 1 WTBS broadcast). CBS made inquiries to the league about switching its traditional Christmas Day game from Philly- Detroit to Philly- Chicago and was rightly rebuffed. Meanwhile, WTBS is trying to comply with NBA commissioner David Stern's request that it somehow shoehorn another Bulls' game into its slate. Here's why: Chicago's WGN, a superstation that will televise 15 Bulls games, reports that it's drawing 30,000 more households in the Chicago area for this year's telecasts than it did last season.
At Chicago Stadium, attendance has more than doubled from what it was last season—6,365 a game to 12,763—and season ticket orders are still coming in. "We were lousy last year and lousy before that," says Bulls ticket manager Joe O'Neil. "Without Jordan, we could have lost 500 season tickets this year."
What's more, Chicago, which was one of the league's worst road shows last season, has sold out eight of its 13 away dates. The one city where Jordan hasn't been hailed as a conquering hero is Portland; in fact, he's something of a sore point there. The Trail Blazers had the No. 2 pick in last spring's college draft but, after Houston took Akeem Olajuwon, passed on Jordan to choose the best big man available, Kentucky's 7'1" Sam Bowie. Never mind that Bowie played forward, not center, for much of a college career studded with injuries.
The Blazers argue, persuasively, that with guys like Jim Paxson, Clyde Drexler and Kiki Vandeweghe in tow, there was no place to put Jordan. But even Dirk Minniefield, Bowie's close friend and a late Chicago cut, says, " Houston and Portland are both going to be sorry they didn't draft him."
"He [Bowie] fits in better than I would," Jordan says. "They have an overabundance of big guards and small forwards."
Such self-effacement has helped Jordan fit in with the Bulls, who in the recent past have been plagued by jealousies and selfishness to match their abysmal won-lost records: Only once, 1980-81, in the past seven seasons has Chicago made the playoffs; only twice in the past nine has it won more games than it lost. "I am very conscious of not being a prima donna," Jordan says. "I wouldn't want that if I were a veteran, and I try to put myself in our veterans' shoes.
"When I came to Chicago for my physical, Rod [ Higgins] and O [ Orlando Woolridge] told me about the losing attitude on the team. They said they'd get up 10 or 12 points and then start wondering when the other team would come back."
With an Olympic gold medal and an NCAA championship ring as hard evidence of what a winner he is, Jordan was just the antidote the Bulls needed. "His attitude is like a good cancer," says Woolridge. "It spreads from player to player." Chicago has already won six road games, a total it didn't reach last season until early February.
Jordan voices only one reservation about his new home: the red of the Bulls' uniforms. "Red's a hellish color," he says, his tongue for once in cheek. "Blue's heaven." And thus is Jordan's life outside basketball still very Carolina. He's in regular touch with Buzz Peterson and Adolph Shiver, basketball pals from his Tar Heel days. He enjoys bowling, follows stock-car racing and tools around in a four-wheel-drive Chevy Blazer. If this sounds like a guy who'll someday retire to a trailer park, remember that he'll be getting $4 million from the Bulls over five years. A good portion of that sum has gone toward a townhouse in the Chicago suburb of Northbrook.