'Error' Jordan grounded Suns fans outraged as Bulls star suspended from only game in Phoenix


PHOENIX -- An ample women wearing tight purple stretch pants, a white blouse and crimson eyeliner was not smiling. She was glaring at the Chicago Bulls' players as they walked onto the court here last night and waving a sign in their faces.

It read: "We traveled over 500 miles and paid $150 each for our tickets. Where's Michael?"

As the Bulls took the floor to meet the Phoenix Suns, Jordan was walking off a golf course in Orlando, Fla., thanks to the NBA and his own enthusiasm.

That's because the league fined Jordan $5,000 and suspended him for one game, which cost him about $40,000 in salary, for bumping referee Tommie Wood with a half-second left when a foul was called on him that decided the Bulls' triple-overtime loss to the Utah Jazz Monday.

NBA operations director Rod Thorn said the suspension was automatic because Jordan made contact with an official. Under league rules, Thorn said, Jordan may appeal the fine but not the suspension.

Jordan left the team hotel here yesterday morning upon hearing the verdict. He had no comment for reporters and headed for Orlando, where he will start for the Eastern Conference in Sunday's All-Star Game.

"I talked to him before he left," Bulls coach Phil Jackson said, "and he said he's disappointed in the fact the team was let down. He said, 'Give them my best wishes and go ahead and win a game.' "

The supension broke two NBA streaks Jordan had going: He was second in most consecutive starts at 235 and ninth in consecutive games played, also at 235. It marked the first game Jordan has missed since a minor groin injury March 8, 1989, in Boston. The Bulls fell behind by 21 in the first quarter of that game and lost 104-95. Last night the Suns were up as much as 50-33 in the first half of a 126-114 victory.

League sources said Jackson also would be fined for his comments after Monday's game. He questioned that a call would be made to end a game, remarked that the referees were looking to go home and noted how Wood was a former CBA referee who has been in the NBA long enough to know better than to make a call like that.

Jackson is expected to be fined about $1,500.

"I've been debriefed," said Jackson, refusing to say whether he has been fined. "I haven't heard the word, but I'm anticipating the worst."

As for Jordan's suspension, Jackson was philosophical.

"The NBA has to make that judgment," he said. "I did see he was following the referee and talking to him, and as Tommie stopped to give the call, there was contact. I don't think [Jordan] purposely went over and physically tried to intimidate him with his body.

"But I think the league has to have a standard it has to go by, and the standard is, if you bump a referee, you're suspended. And if they judged that was a bump, then you're living by the standard they created and it doesn't matter whether it's a coach, trainer or player -- they have to be suspended."

It wasn't only an unpopular move among Bulls' fans. The NBA had received more than 40 calls of protest by yesterday afternoon, and the Suns had received numerous complaints from their fans because of Jordan's absence from the Bulls' only appearance in Phoenix for the season.

"It could have been done on Tuesday," said Jackson, referring to the Bulls' next game, against the New Jersey Nets in Chicago. "But I thought they'd do it this way.

"As to the team, I think all of them secretly liked to know how they'd play without Michael on the court. Here was the chance."

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