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Basketball gets blast of fresh Air

Posted: Friday, October 12, 2001

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- When Michael Jordan caught the perfect alley-oop pass from teammate Courtney Alexander, just about everybody watching thought they knew what was coming.

A dunk, of course, right? Nope. Instead the new-look Jordan laid the ball gently in instead of slamming it through in his debut with the Washington Wizards.

Jordan doesn't have everything working perfectly just yet. But it might not take long.

''I'm not going to try to do something that I'm not prepared to do right now, but I did score,'' he said. ''And even though it's not as it once was, a beautiful tomahawk alley-oop, it may be a dunk in a couple weeks.''

Jordan looked terrific in the first quarter and merely average in the second Thursday night, appearing in a Washington Wizards uniform for the first time and playing 17 first-half minutes in a 95-85 preseason loss to the Detroit Pistons.

Welcomed with a huge, warm ovation in the first game of his comeback, Jordan had a sellout crowd gasping with excitement just 18 seconds into the game when he swooped into the lane from the foul line and swatted away a shot by Pistons forward Ben Wallace.

Jordan went on to miss his first shot, a 3-pointer, and make his second -- a 20-foot jumper over Corliss Williamson -- for the first points of the game.

''I kind of surprised myself because my energy level was pretty good in the first quarter. I thought I was OK, and I felt like I've still got room for improvement,'' Jordan said. ''So I'm on schedule, but I was surprised by how intensified I was in the first quarter. It's been three years since I played an exhibition game, and obviously it's going to take some time for me to be adjusted.''

Jordan played the opening 8:08 of the first quarter and the first 8:25 of the second, scoring eight points on 4-for-8 shooting with three rebounds, two turnovers, a steal and the block. He did not play in the second half.

Used as the primary ballhandler for most of his minutes, Jordan showed off a few perimeter moves to free himself for jumpers. Matched defensively in the first quarter against Williamson, a small forward, Jordan was beaten once on a backdoor play and failed to box out on another play, leading to a tip-in by Williamson.

Pistons reserve guard Jon Barry got the best of him on two plays in the second quarter, driving around Jordan for a reverse layup and then popping open for a 3-pointer from the corner when Jordan did not fight through a screen.

''Nobody is going to have mercy on him, I don't care if he's 38 or 58,'' Barry said. ''He had his feast on us, maybe if things don't work out we can feast on him a little bit.''

The Wizards were outscored 23-7 when Jordan was on the floor in the second quarter, and official Steve Javie even whistled him for a palming violation that drew astonished hoots from the crowd.

Jerry Stackhouse of Detroit led all scorers with 30 points. Richard Hamilton had a team-high 24 for Washington.

''Michael was fine. I said I was going to play him eight minutes, but after he came out he said 'Let me play a little bit more,''' Wizards coach Doug Collins said. ''Let's give him four or five more weeks to let him get where he wants to be. He's three or four weeks away from being where he wants to get.''

Fans crowded beneath the basket and snapped photos during warmups as Jordan worked up enough of a sweat to make his bald head glisten. A sellout crowd of 22,076 at The Palace of Auburn Hills cheered loudly for Jordan as he was the last Washington player introduced, then chanted ''We Want Jordan'' in the third quarter and ''We Want Michael'' in the fourth.

''I thought it lived up to its billing,'' Pistons coach Rick Carlisle said. ''He's not one to make timid entrances, never has been.''

Jordan's decision to play in Washington's first exhibition game saved the Pistons from a ticket refund nightmare.

Had Jordan not played, the Pistons were prepared to let fans exchange tickets for Thursday night's game for tickets to one of the two Wizards-Pistons games during the regular season. But with only 2,000 tickets remaining for those games, supply would not have met demand.

Jordan, after announcing Wednesday that he would sit out games against the Pistons and Miami Heat, changed his mind three hours later, after the Wizards received a phone call from deputy commissioner Russ Granik.

The final 2,000 tickets for the game were sold out by Thursday morning, team spokesman Matt Dobek said.

''I didn't know the expectations of the fans,'' Jordan said after the Wizards' shootaround. ''Once I got the response of everybody in terms of tickets and whatever, I felt compelled to play from that standpoint. I don't want to disappoint anybody.''



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