Jordan rumors blow in Windy City


CHICAGO -- The Beatles wouldn't spark excitement like this, even if they played a comeback concert. Ross Perot's decision to pursue the presidency looks like a footnote by comparison.

Only one man could arouse the frenzy that permeated Chicago yesterday: Michael Jordan. Only he could do all of these things:

* Prompt bookmakers in Las Vegas to drastically improve the odds that a .500 team would win the NBA championship.

* Cause sportscasters to interrupt programs for special reports and send talk radio into a tizzy.

* Stop the sale of brokered Bulls tickets.

* Dominate the rumor mill on the floor of Chicago's financial markets.

* Take precedence at a news conference by Mayor Richard Daley.

* Spark the curiosity of fans nationwide, many of whom flooded news organizations with calls.

It was for many as if the Great Depression and World War II had ended on a single day. Only a Bulls fan kissing a Luvabull on Michigan Avenue, along with a Life magazine photographer to capture the moment, was missing.

"Happy days! Happy days!" Martyn from Chicago screamed in one of countless calls to WSCR-AM, an all-sports radio station.

This mania was not caused by some historic Jordan announcement. It was sparked only by Jordan's working out with the Bulls for the third day in a row. By last night, the behavior of Jordan and his associates suggested that he may be about to announce a majestic encore.

Jordan was silent on the matter. The man whom many fans consider the greatest basketball player in history, who led the Bulls to three consecutive NBA championships, has played big decisions close to his vest in the past.

Several fans made pilgrimages to Michael Jordan's downtown restaurant in hopes of watching events unfold there. News conferences were rumored all day long, although none materialized.

"If I'm going to hear it, it would be fun to hear it here," said Kevin Livermore, 27, of west suburban Lombard. "It will definitely test the structural integrity of the new stadium on the first night back. The town will be up for grabs."

The hysteria took two forms: Some people jumped to the inevitable conclusion, while others took a slight detour through speculation.

Excitement: He's back! (Read: Where to put the fourth trophy?)

Speculation: Will Michael be back? (Read: Is his first game tonight or tomorrow?)

The odds against a Bulls championship this season, for example, took a two-tiered tumble in Las Vegas. On Wednesday, speculation prompted oddsmakers at the Mirage to switch Chicago from 18-1 to 12-1. By yesterday, excited bettors had driven

that down to 6-1 for a team that is 30-30 and in fourth place in its division.

Talk show hosts in Chicago could barely contain themselves.

"Man cannot live on the Blackhawks alone," exclaimed Mike North, co-host of WSCR's midday show. "Things change when Jesus comes back."

Many of North's listeners were just as willing to partake in the Second Coming. The telephone lines at WSCR's Northwest Side studio were lit up with callers who wanted to talk about Jordan, and the fax machine was spitting out comments.

All 11 phone lines were likewise filled at WMVP-AM, another all-sports station.

On radio, too, speculation quickly became excitement. North described the sort of scene that every Bulls fan dreams about: NBA opponents looking at their pocket schedules and finding new concern in games against Chicago.

Jordan even dominated the top spot at one of the mayor's news conferences. Daley expressed hope that Jordan will return, saying it would be "great news."

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