CHICAGO -- Another year, another title and another new set of wheels for Michael Jordan.
That is what it's like to be like Mike.
Three days after leading the Chicago Bulls to their second straight NBA title and four days before traveling to San Diego to begin practicing with the U.S. Olympic team, Jordan took a brief timeout yesterday to accept his NBA Finals Most Valuable Player award, along with the Jeep Cherokee that goes with it.
He averaged 34.8 points against Portland, including a finals career-high of 46 points in Game 5. Jordan also broke a finals record with his 35-point outburst in the first half of Game 1, highlighted by six three-pointers.
In accepting his award, Jordan expressed his gratitude to Chicagoans for supporting him during what he termed "a very hard year personally for me off the court."
After seven years of a nearly perfect marriage with the media and his fans, Jordan endured a season in which he drew criticism for not showing up at a White House ceremony honoring the team, for having associated with a convicted cocaine dealer, for alleged high-stakes gambling on the golf course and for taking back from the NBA the licensing rights to his likeness.
Throughout the course of the championship season, Jordan had to answer to each of those issues, not to mention a best-selling book in which his faults and foibles were chronicled, along with his dunks and doggedness. Jordan said yesterday that he "matured" a lot this season and learned a lesson.
"What it has done is taught me not to go out and be the most perfect person in America," Jordan said. "Everyone has some faults, and you just have to accept life as it comes, to be more aware of people that you come into contact with. If you don't know their past and it's a bad past, then you can be crucified for it. Whatever mistakes you make, you have to stand tall, stand up and move on."
He won't have to worry about repeating his White House snub because the Bulls will not go to Washington to meet with President Bush again. Jordan said coach Phil Jackson decided to forgo any invitation by the White House and that the team agreed with Jackson's decision.
"Everybody has their own reasons," Jordan said. "And I'm pretty sure Phil felt the time was not right because a lot of things had to be done, especially with Scottie [Pippen] and myself going to the Olympics."
Would Jordan have gone to Washington if Jackson had decided otherwise?
"We'll never know now, will we?" he replied with a mischievous grin.
Despite all the controversy, Jordan won his sixth straight scoring title, led the Bulls to a franchise-record 67 regular-season victories, moved into eighth place on the all-time playoff scoring list, filmed a music video with Michael Jackson and, of course, guided the Bulls to a repeat of their world championship.
"If I had a chance to do it all over again, even with all the adversity this year, I'd do it," he said.
Jordan has little time to catch his breath. He is scheduled to be in San Diego at 7 p.m. Sunday, where U.S. Olympic coach Chuck Daly will hold the first meeting before practice for Barcelona begins. Although Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf and general manager Jerry Krause have said they wished Jordan would relinquish his spot on the U.S. team and get some rest, he has no intention of doing so.
"No, I've given my word," Jordan said. "And I'm going to hold on to that. I know [Reinsdorf] and Jerry Krause have been worrying about my injuries and about how much relaxation I'll be able to get. But I know myself a lot better than most people, and I would not go out and jeopardize my next season, even with the injuries I have."
Although Jordan has been a resident here only since 1984, his name is now synonymous with Chicago across the world. Fate (and Portland drafting Sam Bowie ahead of him) brought him here, and now Jordan is the town's most renowned citizen.
"I love Chicago because they respect me," he said. "They took me in like I was one of their own. I'm from North Carolina, and I was totally alien to this situation, this area, when I got here. Now it's like home to me.
"The people really respect me and treat me real nice. Only success has happened to me since I've been here. I'm happy to be here, and I'm happy Chicago has taken me in."
The feeling is mutual.