LANDOVER -- Michael Jordan cast his lot with the 1992 U.S. Olympic basketball team yesterday. An hour later, he broke several Capital Centre scoring records in leading the Chicago Bulls to a 106-100 victory over the Washington Bullets before a sellout crowd of 18,756.
Jordan scored 51 points to set an arena record for a visiting player. And his record-breaking 35 points in the second half paved the Bulls comeback, as they rebounded from a 12-point halftime deficit.
Jordan's effort broke Atlanta Hawks forward Dominique Wilkins' Capital Centre record of 46 points by a visiting player, April 14, 1986. The 35 points in the second half were the most recorded at the 19-year-old arena.
The Bullets trailed by 98-97 with 1:42 remaining when their center, Pervis Ellison, was fouled. The hometown fans -- solidly behind the legendary Jordan -- booed while Ellison stepped to the line, and then cheered when he missed both attempts.
Jordan then put it out of reach, scoring six straight points as the defending champions won their eighth straight and boosted their record to 56-12.
"Phil Jackson [Bulls head coach] saw that Michael was on a tear, and he rode a horse to victory," said assistant Johnny Bach.
Jordan, who scored 40 two nights earlier against the Nets in New Jersey, took over the Bulls' offense in crunch time. Only his usual sidekick Scottie Pippen (22 points) provided significant support as the remainder of his supporting cast combined for 33 points.
Bullets coach Wes Unseld had defensive specialist David Wingate, Ledell Eackles and A.J. English policing Jordan at different times with the same negative results.
"He was unconscious, unbelievable, he was just Michael," said English. "When he starts hitting his jumper, you know you're in for a long night. And then he gets some calls from the officials [Jordan made 12 of 15 free throws] because he's a superstar."
In past years, Jordan had never recorded superstar stats against the Bullets. That was during a period when he played opposite Jeff Malone, now with the Utah Jazz.
"With Jeff, he kept me busy on the offensive end," Jordan said. "I don't want to fault Wingate, but he's not as offensive-minded, and I can relax a little on defense. A.J. tried to play me very physically, almost tackling me. But I was in a groove tonight, and sooner or later, you know I'm going to bust out."
Eackles, at least, managed to get the Bulls attention, continuing his recent scoring surge with a 28-point performance. Michael Adams chipped in with 19 and Ellison had 16.
It was Eackles and Ellison who kept the Bullets in contention in the fourth quarter, but they could not match Jordan's one-man onslaught.
But first, Jackson had to get the Bulls attention after the Bullets, playing near-flawless basketball, moved to a 58-46 halftime lead.
"Phil threw the ball in their court during halftime," said Bach. "He didn't scream or rant like a high school coach. He just told them that they weren't performing like a team that was defending a title and had won 55 games, especially on the defensive end."
The message made an immediate impact. By the end of the third quarter, the Bulls, riding Jordan's 15 points, had moved in front, 78-77.
"We came out too tentative," said Horace Grant, who had a sub-par 11-point, seven-rebound performance playing against twin brother, Harvey. "We stepped up our defense in the second half, and Pippen and Jordan picked up the rebounding slack."
L Jordan gave his coach credit for the second-half turnaround.
"Phil is a psychology major," said Jordan. "He's always playing with our minds and keeping us focused on winning another title."