The Post-Journal

His Airness At The Aud

BUFFALO — The chant began with 2:58 remaining in the fourth quarter Wednesday night.

It wasn’t particularly loud and it certainly didn’t involve more than a handful of kids.

But the message was clear.

“We want Jordan, we want Jordan, we want Jordan,” the kids yelled from the upper reaches of Memorial Auditorium.

The fact that the NBA preseason game, pitting the two-time defending champion Chicago Bulls against the Sacramento Kings, was all but over didn’t matter to the youngsters.

They, along with the rest of the crowd of 15,779, had come not so much to watch the two teams play, but to watch one man — Michael Jordan.

All they wanted was one last glimpse, see one last dunk and get one last photo opportunity before the final horn sounded, sending the Pied Piper of basketball into the night.

For fans who lost the Buffalo Braves 15 years ago, this was their Christmas and New Year’s all rolled into one.

What they saw wasn’t vintage Jordan, but it was good enough.

In 26 minutes, Jordan scored a game-high 23 points (on 7 of 18 shooting), grabbed eight rebounds, and had two assists, two steals and, gulp, one missed dunk, leading the Bulls to a 105-96 victory.

“There was a little bit of a struggle in the first half,” Jordan said. “The third quarter we kind of turned it on a little bit, but we kind of got out of sync. … We were not in a rhythm as a team, but as we’ve done a lot, we were able to put together some good runs and pull out the game.”

For the record, the Bulls are 7-0 during the preseason and have played before 139,532 fans (an average of 18,644 in those seven games.

And this is preseason.

But the Bulls are used to playing in front of, and dealing with, the crowds, who are there primarily to see Jordan and cheer his every move.

Last night was an example.

At 7:15 p.m., the Bulls took the court for pregame warmups, and the Jordan-watch began. Every time he touched the ball, camera flashes went off and a roar went up. Three minutes later, the Kings took the floor and the fans booed.

Jordan began slowly, missing his first four shots, including a dunk, before netting 10 points by halftime.

“My legs kind of left me,” Jordan said sheepishly of his first-quarter missed dunk. “It was a good thing I got the rebound and got a chance for a 3-point play. It kind of covered up for what I didn’t do the first time. I’m going to take some ribbing from my teammates, but I can tell you I’m getting old.

Before anyone gets too concerned, however, Jordan is 29 and has no plans to even consider retirement.

“I love the game,” he said. “I’ll play it as long as I love the game. It’s hard to put a time frame on love.”

Quite obviously, the love for Jordan isn’t about to wane. He is — along with Magic Johnson — one of the most adored celebrities in the world. The Summer Olympics in Barcelona proved that. He can’t go anywhere without being mobbed. Last night, fans waited outside the locker room and near the team bus to catch a glimpse of him. Jim Kelly, Andre Reed, Thurman Thomas and Cornelius Bennett of the Buffalo Bills were in attendance to greet him.

And so was the media.

As Jordan spoke to a horde of reporters at one end of the Bulls’ spartan locker room, the rest of the team dressed quietly without saying a word. Guys like Scottie Pippen, Horace Grant and John Paxson could have been part of the custodial crew for all that the media cared.

Meanwhile, Jordan patiently answered every single question in what was likely his 5,035th press conference of his eight-year career.

“I’ve been dealing with it for a long period of time,” he said of the media attention. “I try and respect people that respect me. That’s just how I am. That’s my personality.

More athletes should want to be like Mike.

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