Just like riding a bicycle. Over Niagara Falls.
How could Michael Jordan ever have given up all of this to go 1 for 5?
It is the least favorite quarter for the Chicago Bulls, the fourth, but suddenly they are playing with the energy of anarchists.
They had piddled and puddled - or, to quote Phil Jackson, dithered and dickered - all day, trailed the Indiana Pacers like servants, caught up in the return of His Airness and the wonder of sharing his space.
And Himself had been the cause rather than the remedy. Without Scottie Pippen’s polish and patience, the Bulls are kindling, footwipes, breadsticks.
For most of the game Jordan is awkward. He is slow. His first step is backward. He is outleaped by Haywoode Workman. He is posted up by Derrick McKey. He is outscrapped by Vern Fleming.
He is humbled by Reggie Miller’s supporting cast.
The ball is bursting with impudence. It will not go in. It will not even tease. It clanks or avoids the basket altogether.
“Every shot felt good,” Jordan will say. That is what Jordan always said.
Maybe this is not Jordan but some celebrity double. He isn’t even wearing the right number on his uniform. He is 45, not 23.
“Very few people know that was my junior high number,” he says later.
“And 23 was the last one my father saw.”
“It’s a fresh start.”
This is an explanation that does not allow an argument, even though marketing has a whole new wardrobe to peddle. Whatever the number on the costume, what matters is if the player we remember is inside it.
Miller is getting his shot whenever he wants it. The Canadian ultraterrestrial Bill Wennington is out-slam-dunking Jordan.
Time does not look like Jordan’s enemy, gravity does. He doesn’t slam. He finger-rolls. Michael Jordan finger-rolls.They are booing because everything says that Jordan should be standing on his tongue and instead Jordan is as dangerous as he has been all day.
Jordan is working underneath his own basket like some kind of over-elbowed grunt, snatching his own misses, dishing off to teammates he can’t call by either name (that’s Corie Blount blowing the gift assist the way Will Perdue usually does).
Jordan works harder inside than any other Bull, but he can’t be back to be the new Horace Grant. He is back to be the old Michael Jordan.
That’s the old Jordan dashing the length of the floor to swipe at an Indiana breakaway. That’s Jordan through force of will bringing on a 25-9 run that will tie the game at 92 and force an overtime. It is Pippen who makes the shot, but it is Jordan who demands it.
That is the old Jordan giving the foul on Miller. Really giving it. Jordan’s knee cracks Miller’s thigh. Jordan is down, but Miller is limping to the locker room with a bruise.
The Pacers will not need Miller to win. And Jordan will measure his return first by the result.
“I had a bad game,” Jordan will say. “Maybe it’s good. There’s something to build on.”
The Bulls do not get victory. What they get are clues. Will the Bulls be better with Jordan? Oh, absolutely. His legs will return to where his fire already is.
Pippen’s burden will be eased. B.J. Armstrong’s shot will be less vital. And even Toni Kukoc, the Croatian turnstile, will be better if only to earn Jordan’s good opinion.
This is not the resumption of something old, but the beginning of something else.
Can’t wait to find out what it is.