Jordan's support from teammates was built on air


CHICAGO -- You don't exactly blame Michael Jordan. But you listen to him, and you wonder if he couldn't be a little more generous, a little more supportive, a little more perfect. I mean, we always thought he was perfect. And then he talks about his "supporting cast."

I never heard a player use that phrase. Magic Johnson wouldn't. I don't think Lord Laurence Olivier would have.

Supporting cast?

He means teammates, right? This ain't the Oscars, pal.

Maybe it's just a slip of that famous tongue and he's only parroting what everyone else is always saying. If his teammates are insulted, they haven't mentioned it. Of course, you'd have to find them to ask.

On Sunday in Game 1 of the NBA Finals against the Lakers, they basically disappeared. How's this for a cast that was not quite supporting: Other than Scottie Pippen, none of Jordan's Chicago Bulls teammates scored more than six points. Really. I never heard of that in an NBA game either. This is the box score as missing-persons report.

"I left my shots at home," explained forward Horace Grant.

"Shooting" guard John Paxson said the rims were a little tight. Center Bill Cartwright suggested that the Bulls have a tendency to get a little tight when they're behind.

All those guys scored six points each.

Supporting cast?

No wonder Jordan took over at the end -- and nearly pulled it out, too. And, now, for his troubles, he's hearing some people say Jordan is too great for his team's own good, that he so overshadows everyone else that his teammates haven't seen enough light under which to grow.

It isn't that he's selfish. Along with his 36 points, he had 12 assists Sunday, one more than Magic Johnson, the selfless one himself. He doesn't want to do it all. Does he?

"I want to get the other guys going," Jordan said. "It makes it easier on me at the end."

Did he mean that the way it sounded?

On his television show Sunday night, Jordan said: "I don't think Scottie Pippen played the game he wanted to play. I don't think Bill Cartwright played the game he wanted to play."

Hmm. This doesn't sound exactly like pep-talk material. Might not he have rallied behind his teammates? Is he discouraged by them? Does he have to do too much? Does the man who might well have invented poetry take this big-shoulders business a little too seriously?

Please allow Magic to come to his defense.

"Michael's the reason they're here," he said. "He's just like I am. When it's the end of the game and some people aren't doing their job, he wants to take over. When you have his kind of ability, why not do it? Sometimes, it might look like he's doing too much, but his teammates have to catch up to him."

Most of his teammates couldn't catch Jordan with Jose Canseco driving. They are in awe of His Highness. They watch him as we do, slack-jawed. They defer to him. It's only natural. He's Michael. Row the team to shore, hallelujah.

"When I first got here, I did that a little," Grant said of the tendency to watch Jordan. "I'd watch him. I'd sit back and ooh and ah. But the team has matured so much."

That's what you hear: The Bulls have matured. And then you hear Jordan say the Bulls were a little too excited against the Lakers.

"I think it was a nervous situation for a lot of people," Jordan said. "We didn't have any flow. I had to create something myself. I had to try to get us into the flow."

There will be more flow tomorrow. I promise. It was obvious from the start that Jordan, playing in his first finals, felt compelled to take over the game. Game 2 will be different. Paxson will take more jumpers. The Bulls will make sure that Grant sees the ball someplace other than in Jordan's hands. They'll try to post up Cartwright, who protested the line of questioning anyway.

"Would you be asking me about who scored how many points if Michael's last shot went in?" he wondered.

Fair question, but the answer is probably yes. The Bulls' problem persists. Is it too much Michael or is too little everyone else or is it both?

For Jordan's part, he kept going back to Sam Perkins' game-winning three-pointer, as if wondering which of his teammates would have attempted it.

"This is the advantage I think they have over us," Jordan said. "They have the fearlessness of taking a shot and not worrying if it misses."

The Lakers had Vlade Divac taking a huge baseline jumper in the final minute that missed. It didn't seem to faze anyone.

Which of the Bulls is going to step forward? Pippen has stepped up his game. Can anyone else? I'd bet that Jordan has asked himself that very question.

Somebody asked Jordan if he ever fantasized about trading places with Magic and what it would have been like if he'd played his career alongside Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy and Jamaal Wilkes and Norm Nixon.

"Yeah," he said, "I've fantasized about it."

How many championship rings would he have? As many as Magic's five?

Jordan smiled.

"Five is very possible," he said. "I could have had five. I could have had none."

Pausing for a moment, he added, "I could have had 10. Who knows?"

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