We fast-forward one year to check out MJ's third coming
Philadelphia, April 2002--Well, this Michael Jordan comeback had
its moments; no one can deny that. There was the obligatory
torching of the Knicks in Madison Square Garden, the memorable
tit-for-tat with Carolina homeboy Vince Carter that warmed up a
winter's night in Toronto and the not-so-fast-there-youngster
schooling of Kobe Bryant in front of the A-listers at L.A.'s
Staples Center. Yes, on most nights during this 2001-02 season
His Airness was one of the 10 best players in the NBA, and on
certain nights he was still the best in the world.
But, alas, not on all nights.
And so here, at the 76ers' First Union Center, it came to an end
with the loss that eliminated the team Jordan once owned from
playoff contention, the loss that put a premature punctuation
mark on the return of those wizened Wizards, Jordan and Charles
At times over the past five months a lovely Proustian glow
enveloped the NBA. These were the occasions when the 39-year-old
Jordan played like the 29-year-old Jordan, offering a delicious
remembrance of things past. The Jordan jolts were felt in several
ways, with sellout crowds in moribund venues in New Jersey and
Oakland, competitiveness ratcheted up to postseason levels
whenever Jordan was on the floor, and back-slapping press
conferences when Jordan played Prince Hal to Barkley's Falstaff.
According to the party line, it all made the most scrutinized
comeback since MacArthur stepped onshore at Leyte an unqualified
But what to think now that the return has failed to produce a
miracle? Did Jordan bite off more than he could chew? Why, it
never happened to him on the basketball court before. Worse, the
comeback ended here, in the house of the anti-Michael. We had a
glimpse of a glorious past but were left with this scene: an
exhausted Jordan tugging on his shorts after being outdueled by
Allen Iverson; Barkley sitting at courtside in mufti (his season
having ended weeks ago because of a variety of injuries) dissing
Iverson in a radio interview, as he'd been doing all season; the
Answer, microphone stuck in his face, paying restrained homage to
Jordan while letting everyone know--once and for all--that there's
a stake in Ol' Baldy's heart. The King is dead, long live the
Before Jordan laced 'em back up, pro basketball had been like
boxing's heavyweight division, awaiting the return of someone to
transform night back into day. Well, now it's night again, NBA
folks, so what's next? Ah, that's the hard lesson of the comeback
that ended too soon. There is no next. This is your league. Deal
with it. --Jack McCallum
Five Fanciful Highlights of a Michael Jordan Comeback
Oct. 31, 2001 NBC and NBA rent New York's Javits center for
Welcome Back, MJ! party. Afterward, host Ahmad Rashad
hospitalized for euphoria.
Nov. 13, 2001 In return to United Center, Jordan torches Bulls
for career-high 72 points in 73-63 win. Says Chicago G.M. Jerry
Krause, "Organizations don't lose games, players do."
Dec. 24, 2001 MJ announces media boycott after frenzy surrounding
release of acquaintance's tell-all book, Michael & Me: Our
Chocolate Addiction...and My Cry for Help!
Jan. 20, 2002 Jordan signs five-year, $45 million endorsement
deal with Golden Elegance Adjustable Mattresses.
April 30, 2002 Following reports of workouts with ex-Birmingham
Barons teammates, MJ denies rumors of baseball comeback.
SWING AND A MISS
Ruben Rivera was once a fleet, power-hitting Yankees centerfield
prospect seemingly destined to join the pantheon of pin-striped
legends. Upon his release by the Padres last week at age 27,
Rivera instead found company alongside the Y2K bug as one of the
most overhyped busts of this generation.
"The Yankees haven't had a talent like this since Mickey Mantle,"
gushed Rivera's Arizona Fall League manager, John Stearns, in
1994. White Sox scout Mike Pazik said that autumn that Chicago
would have to give up reigning two-time MVP Frank Thomas for
Rivera, who had 33 homers and 48 steals in Class A ball in '94.
New York did trade Rivera, to San Diego in 1997 for the similarly
overpraised Hideki Irabu.
As it turned out, the 6'3", 208-pound Rivera couldn't catch up
with a mediocre fastball--in 1,115 at bats he hit .210--and
budget-conscious San Diego couldn't justify his $1 million
salary. "You looked at his body and thought you were seeing
something special, but he was just an average guy," says one
scout. "The only times I saw him hit were against Number 4 or 5
starters. He was never anything but potential."
Guys like Rivera are known as scouts' players: They exhibit
speed, power and size, but their athleticism never translates
into production. "From five o'clock to seven o'clock Ruben was
great," says Padres general manager Kevin Towers. "He'd hit
second-deck home runs in batting practice that would make your
jaw drop. But once the game started, everything sped up and Ruben
couldn't keep up."
Rivera will hook on with another club because he can provide
defense and speed off the bench, and because some team will be
tantalized by his potential. Towers, though, isn't worried that
Rivera might become more legend than myth: "When I started in
this business, I really believed in radar guns and stopwatches.
The longer I'm around, the less I believe in them. You have to
find out what's inside a player. We never saw that fire inside
Ruben." --Tom Verducci
Even by the Williams family's standards, last week was eventful.
SUNDAY, MARCH 11 At the tournament in Indian Wells, Calif., Venus
Williams (far left) is to be honored as the WTA Tour's 2000
Player of the Year. She declines to attend the awards banquet;
actor Paul Sorvino accepts on her behalf.
MONDAY After Venus beats Rachel McQuillan, she's grilled about
her absence from the awards gala. Her excuse: "I'm still on East
TUESDAY Richard Williams takes center stage, promoting SerVen
Rich bottled water. (The name is derived from Serena, Venus and
Richard.) A press release claims the drink has "800 percent more
oxygen than ordinary water" and notes part of the sales will go
to the family's worldwide tennis camps. Asked about the camps,
Venus says, "I'm not sure what you're talking about."
WEDNESDAY Serena routs Lindsay Davenport, and Venus beats Elena
Dementieva, setting up an all-Williams semi. Dementieva, echoing
some on the tour, says, "I think Richard will decide who's going
to win tomorrow." Says Venus, "It's not a true opinion at all."
THURSDAY Less than 10 minutes before the match, Venus withdraws,
citing a sore right knee. Fans boo; some demand refunds. Venus
antagonizes fans further by joking she doesn't have any money
with which to repay them.
FRIDAY The National Enquirer reports two sources close to the
Williamses say that Richard instructed Serena to lose to Venus in
last year's Wimbledon final. Says Serena: "Come on, it's The
National Enquirer. Next thing you know I'm going to be pregnant
by some martian."
SATURDAY Amid jeers from the crowd of 15,940, Serena wins the
family's first title of the year, beating Kim Clijsters. From the
stands Richard thrusts a defiant fist in the air.
The recent downturn in the markets has left virtually no sector
unharmed. Tech stocks, industrials, biotechs--all have been
pounded this year. What's a savvy financier to do? Might we
suggest a sports-minded approach to investing?
Current price: $9.35 Wall Street wisdom: "One of the unique pro
sports franchises," says Bear Stearns leisure analyst Marc
Falcone. "The fan loyalty to the franchise, good arrangements
with the FleetCenter, and their player salaries are in line."
Current price: $2.00 Wall Street wisdom: "A unique investment
opportunity," says Schneider Securities VP Stephen Stark of the
Arena football team. "We believe the NFL will exercise an option
to acquire nearly half the league and significantly increase the
value of the Predators."
International Speedway Corp.
Current price: $40.19 Wall Street wisdom: "Some are concerned
about Dale Earnhardt's death," says CSFB analyst Scott Barry
about ISC, which owns 12 NASCAR racetracks (including Daytona).
"But the sport has never been better positioned to withstand his
Current price: $28.56 Wall Street wisdom: "We've seen a decline
in attendance at tracks," says Falcone, "but off-track wagering
has increased. Churchill Downs has recognized this and created a
broadcast company that sells the signal of races to OTB outlets
around the U.S."
Q What happens to the hats hockey fans throw onto the ice to
salute a hat trick?
A Since there's no NHL-wide policy, teams are on their own. "We
used to just toss them out," says Ottawa director of facilities
and services Tom Conroy, "but we've started hanging on to them
because fans have started to come back to claim them. Obviously,
not every hat makes it back to its owner, but we'll send a new
Senators cap to people who don't find their own." In Dallas,
Detroit and Pittsburgh, caps are thrown away after they're
cleared from the ice, though following Jaromir Jagr's hat trick
on March 10--which happened to be hat night at the Mellon
Arena--the Penguins saved the 1,000 lids that littered the ice.
"It's standard procedure to throw hats away since they've been
worn," says Phil Becker, an account executive for the Penguins.
"But most of those hats were brand-new, so we might give them to
Some teams have gotten creative: The Penguins now offer a
selection of the headgear collected off the ice as mementos to
the player who scored the hat trick, while the Flyers have
installed a display case at the First Union Center to house
relics of Philly's hat tricks over the past two seasons. "Once
the hats are on the ice, they're public property, so we keep them
and put them on display," says Kerrianne Brady, the Center's
archivist. "We just clean them first."
By Picabo Street, the first downhill contested on the
Wildflower course at Snowbasin, Utah, site of the 2002 women's
Olympic downhill. The lower-level Nor-Am race drew numerous World
Cup skiers seeking to acquaint themselves with the course. It was
Street's fifth straight Nor-Am win as she returns from the broken
left femur and torn right knee ligaments suffered in a March '98
WBC super middleweight champion Dave Hilton, of sexual abuse of
two teenage sisters from 1995 to '98. The WBC said it would not
strip Hilton of his title, which he won in December, until the
appeals process is completed.
For one year, Sterling Sharpe's induction into the Packer Hall
of Fame. The former wideout who spent seven seasons in Green Bay
didn't respond in time to the letter informing him of his
election to the class of 2001 because it got lost among his fan
To former Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach's real estate
development company, the contract for the new Penn Station rail
and transit terminal on Manhattan's West Side. Staubach's company
will join with Germany's Frankfurt Airport Services Worldwide in
the $788 million project.
Cheerios boxes featuring six Canadian Olympic hopefuls. The
sextet includes Red Wings center Steve Yzerman, though Team
Canada has yet to be named. Said Yzerman, "Maybe they'll have to
superimpose Joe Sakic's face on all those boxes."
By Kentucky Fried Chicken, a multimillion-dollar incentive to
the Grizzlies to move to Louisville. In exchange the club's name
would be changed to the Kentucky Colonels and the city's new $200
million arena dubbed the KFC Bucket.
RPI, RIP. We wondered how the NCAA tournament would play out if
the field of 65 were seeded based on criteria other than
basketball performance. Want real March Madness? Imagine Dickie
V going postal as Princeton and UCLA duke it out over differing
interpretations of Wittgenstein's Tractatus! Our
parallel-universe Final Fours.
THE FOUR-YEAR FOUR: Best Student-Athlete Graduation Rates
(3) Notre Dame
Source: NCAA (Princeton's rank is based on overall student-body
THE DIGITAL FOUR: Most Wired Campuses
(4) Penn State
Source: Yahoo! Internet Life magazine
THE METAPHYSICAL FOUR: Top Philosophy Departments
Source: The Philosophical Gourmet Report
THE FISCALLY PRUDENT FOUR: Smallest Average Debt upon Graduation
(1) Indiana State
(4) Western Kentucky
(2) Northwestern State
(3) UNC Greensboro
Winner: Indiana State
Source: U.S. News & World Report
THE EASY FOUR: Highest Acceptance Rates
(1) Northwestern State
(4) Iowa State
(2) Kent State
Winner: Northwestern State
Source: U.S. News & World Report
THE FUN FOUR: Best Party Schools
(4) Ohio State
Source: The Princeton Review
The Greatest Dearest: Boxer Laila Ali (below), youngest daughter
of Muhammad Ali, has just signed to write a book called Reach!
Positive Motivational Power in My Life. "Hopefully her story will
motivate women to make positive changes in their lives," says
Laila's agent, Dan Strone. The book will also discuss her family,
which she calls "dysfunctional to the max." Meanwhile, Laila's
half sister, Khaliah Ali, is shopping her own memoir, Butterflies
and Bees: A Woman's Search for Her Father. Khaliah is the
daughter of Ali and Wanda Bolton, who were wed in a 1973 Nation
of Islam ceremony, a marriage that was never legally recognized.
According to Khaliah's book proposal, she believes her father
views her as "a mistake" and promises to reflect on the man who
"gave me a name and has flitted in and out of my life."...
Josh Prager, the Wall Street Journal reporter who caused a stir
last month with his story on how the baseball Giants' miracle
1951 season was aided by sign stealing, has sold a book version
of his article, reportedly for a whopping $500,000....
Two Olympic-themed features are in the works. Disney is in line
to buy a script about the U.S. hockey team's victory over the
Soviets in the 1980 Winter Olympics. At the other end of the
spectrum is The Ringer, a Fox comedy about two guys planning to
fix the Special Olympics. Bobby and Peter Farrelly (Dumb and
Dumber) will produce, and Johnny Knoxville (MTV's Jackass) will
Rutgers's new football coach, Greg Schiano, needs all the help
he can get, so Rutgers alum Mark Ohlstein called his college
roommate, James Gandolfini. Gandolfini agreed to appear in a TV
ad with Schiano for the football program. (The spot will air
locally in mid-April.) So what happens when Tony Soprano calls
for a favor in return?
B/W PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH MICHAEL'S BACK! Jordan's return wasn't as uplifting as the NBA had hoped.
COLOR PHOTO: RICH PILLING/MLB PHOTOS (RIVERA) Despite his talents, Rivera never connected as a major leaguer.
COLOR PHOTO: YURI KADOBNOV/AFP
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER (CELTICS)
COLOR PHOTO: LOU CAPOZZOLA (PREDATORS)
COLOR PHOTO: GEORGE TIEDEMANN (SPEEDWAY)
COLOR PHOTO: BILL FRAKES (DERBY)
COLOR PHOTO: CHRIS GARDNER/AP (HATS)
COLOR PHOTO: SELKO/TW
COLOR PHOTO: EVAN AGOSTINI/NEWSMAKERS (ALI)
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH
Winston Cup races that Shawna Robinson, 36, plans to run in this
year for Michael Kranefuss's team.
Years since a woman finished a Winston Cup race; Janet Guthrie
was 28th at Pocono in 1980.
Las Vegas pro sports teams that have folded in the past 25 years,
including the International Basketball League's Bandits last
Loss announced for the second fiscal quarter by CMGI, the
internet conglomerate that has a 15-year, $120 million naming
rights deal for the Patriots' new stadium.
Times that an LPGA or PGA Tour 18-hole record had fallen by more
than one stroke before Annika Sorenstam shot a 59 to break the
women's mark by two.
This Week's Sign of the Apocalypse
Blazers forward and body-art aficionado Rasheed Wallace has been
approached by a candy company to tattoo its logo on him.
"Rivera is one of the most overhyped busts of this generation."
They Said It
Longtime Mets reliever: "You know how Tommy Lasorda says he
bleeds Dodger blue? I bleed Met whatever-colors-they-are."