MICHAEL JORDAN United Center return lacks aura



Barring injury, tonight's game won't be his farewell performance to Chicago.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- A trip to Chicago to play basketball will always be special to Michael Jordan, even if this one isn't as emotional as last year's.
Jordan will dress in the visitors' locker room at the United Center for only the second time tonight, when his Washington Wizards play his former team, the Chicago Bulls.
Chicago fans nearly drove Jordan to tears with a long standing ovation when the starting lineups were announced during his first return 12 months ago. Jordan played one of the most nervous games of his career, committing a career-high nine turnovers and scoring 16 points in a 77-69 victory.
Less emotional
"I've gotten a year removed from that," Jordan said. "It's always going to be home, and fans are always going to be someone I have high regard for. They built my career, basically, with their support, and I'm going back now as someone who's trying to beat their team.
"I imagine they're going to have the same respect, but they're going to be loyal, too."
One difference is that the Bulls are actually becoming a competitive team. They were so bad last year that the game had little meaning beyond Jordan's presence.
But Chicago ended Portland's eight-game winning streak Tuesday night, beating the Trail Blazers 102-87, and the Bulls are 11-20. That's just three games behind Washington's 14-17 record.
"If you go in there thinking they're bottom-dwellers, then you're going to end up getting beat," Jordan said.
Also, the aura surrounding Jordan's comeback isn't the same as it was a year ago. The curiosity has been satisfied as to whether Jordan could actually play again after a three-year retirement; now the countdown has begun to his third -- and final -- retirement at the end of the season.
Jordan is saying his competitive goodbyes. This week, his farewells included Orlando's Tracy McGrady, who got a pair of autographed Air Jordans from MJ after they dueled for the last time, and former Chicago teammate Steve Kerr.
Kerr, who now plays for San Antonio, gave one of the most honest assessments on Jordan this season after the Wizards beat the Spurs on Tuesday.
"He's still one of the best players in the league, but he's no longer immortal," Kerr said. "You can just see it. He used to go up for a jump shot, and everybody else would fall to the floor and he would still be hanging in the air when everybody else falls. He used to be so much more dominant. He's still one of the best. It's just hard for people to accept that. I don't know why."
Farewell fare
Some arenas have been giving Jordan the "farewell tour" routine. A timeout was called late in the Orlando game so that a Jordan montage could be shown on the replay screen, giving the fans a last chance to cheer No. 23.
But, barring injury, Thursday's game won't be his farewell to Chicago. The Wizards return one more time on Jan. 24.
Jordan expects a warm welcome at both games. After all, he led the Bulls to six NBA championships in the 1990s, the franchise's only titles.
"I imagine if I can get it at any other place, I can get it at home in Chicago," he said.

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