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Remembering a different time of Michael Jordan

POSTED February 19, 2013
BY Patrick Tiscia
Twitter: @PatrickTiscia

Michael Jordan is my all-time favorite athlete.

For someone 31 years of age, that revelation is hardly a surprise. Watching and reading the countless features on him over the last week in honor of his 50th birthday reminded me why.

I loved his dunks as a kid. The cool shoes. The simple, yet fashionably cool red Bulls No. 23 jersey. His relentless desire to win, whether it'd be an NBA Finals game or a Wednesday night in February against the painfully bad Vancouver Grizzlies.

I couldn't get enough. The jersey, shoes, posters, basketball cards all littered my bedroom. I was devastated when he first retired in 1993, annoyed that the Bulls all but forced his second retirement in 1999.

When Jordan returned again, in 2001 with the Washington Wizards of all teams, people cringed, worried he'd be a shell of his former self. He wasn't the same, but wasn't the stiff people now say he was, even averaging 20 points a game as a 41-year old in his last season.

The sports world today likes to pretend his two-year stint in Washington never happened. I, on the other hand, am extremely grateful for it.

Due to outrageous ticket prices when Jordan was with Chicago, I never had the opportunity to see him play in person. In the summer of 2001, before it was known he was coming back, a couple of friends and I purchased random Knicks tickets, for $10 no less, and the opponent by luck of the draw turned out to be the Wizards.

The date was Dec. 22, 2001. The hype at Madison Square Garden was unlike anything I'd ever seen at a regular season game as celebrities and regular fans filled the building for warm-ups, crowding the courtside area just in hopes of getting a picture of Jordan.

I never saw a player so loved before and haven't since.

The other four starters next to Jordan would've had a hard time cracking the starting lineup of my high school rec team in Naugatuck: Hubert Davis, Popeye Jones, Jahidi White and Chris Whitney.

It didn't matter.

Jordan took the team on his back, scoring 26 points and hit a jumper over Latrell Sprewell and Allan Houston with three seconds left to give Washington an 87-86 win. When the shot went in, The Garden erupted as if the Knicks won a championship, a truly surreal sight. Jordan had many classic moments in that building and to be in it for one of them, even if it wasn't for the Bulls, was something I will never forget.

The front page of The New York Times, with a picture of that shot, hangs framed on my basement wall today.

In total, I saw five Wizards games in person during Jordan's time, including his last appearance at MSG when he went off for 39 in yet another loss.

Sure, the magic of the six Chicago championships and six Finals MVPs wasn't there for him in Washington. He was a step slower, his teammates were, to be nice, terrible and he was wearing an odd, funky uniform, looking totally out of place.

Obviously, he would've been better off staying retired after the perfect ending in Chicago, hitting the Finals-winning jumper at Utah in 1998. For selfish reasons, I'm just glad he gave it one more shot.

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