Here's hoping Jordan's return is about the game he loves, not greed

Here's the latest on the Michael Jordan watch: His Airness showed up again to practice with the Chicago Bulls yesterday, the third time in a week Jordan has practiced with his former team. It's just another sign that the game's most exciting player will soon return.

Why else would Jordan be working out? If his intentions were not to play basketball, Jordan probably would be on a golf course on some exotic island playing a couple of rounds and celebrating the fact that he could make $30 million a year without picking up a bat or ball.


Jordan is about challenges, and what bigger challenge would there be than to take a Chicago team that's struggling to maintain a .500 record and turn it into a championship contender? The Bulls are probably too far into the season to gain any sort of chemistry for a serious run at a championship. But despite the dominance of the Orlando Magic, is there a scarier sight than facing the seventh game of a series with Jordan controlling the ball and your destiny?

It has made the job of Bulls coach Phil Jackson a bit more interesting.


"My heart says he's going to come back and play," Jackson said. "That's just wishful thinking right now, a wishful feeling."

It makes sense that, according to some reports, Jordan wants Scottie Pippen to stay in Chicago. Jordan's a great player, but at 32 there would be too many demands on his body to return the Bulls to their winning form. If the reports are true, it's a sign of loyalty to Pippen, who at times has complained about not getting the proper recognition playing in Jordan's shadow.

There's a somewhat disturbing published report that Jordan is looking for the NBA and NBC to compensate him upon his return, paying him beyond what he'll make from the Bulls. Jordan, according to the report, wants NBC to compensate him because the network has three regular-season games left with the Bulls, plus the playoffs.

Hopefully, that report is not true because it just would demonstrate greed by a man who makes more money than imaginable. What's next? Shaquille O'Neal demanding an extra $100,000 per NBC appearance? That would be a disturbing trend.

Hopefully, Jordan's return will reflect his love for the game and his love for competition. Just the thought of his coming back has provided an excitement level that hasn't been reached since his departure 18 months ago.

Don't let this be a tease, Mike. Strap on those Air Jordans and show the young boys from the new school how to really fly. For a true fan of basketball, there isn't a bigger thrill.

Trade dictates strategy

Here's the situation: The New Jersey Nets go into their April 23 game against the Boston Celtics, with the winner getting the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Reserve forward Jayson Williams checks into the close of the game for the Nets, gets into one of those scoring zones at game's end, then gets a seat on the bench, never to be seen again.


It could happen, and here's why. When the Nets obtained Williams from the Philadelphia 76ers three years ago, they agreed to give the 76ers their first-round pick if Williams' points and minutes totaled 19. Williams' average this season is 17.9, and the Nets are closely monitoring the situation.

"I understand what the team is doing," Williams said recently. "And I'm all for helping the organization."

This season, Williams has recorded career highs in points (20) and rebounds (14). In a span of 31 seconds in the second quarter of Saturday's loss to the Washington Bullets, Williams had five points. That would be all the scoring in the game for Williams, who wound up playing six minutes.

It will be interesting to see what the Nets do tomorrow when they face O'Neal and the Orlando Magic. With Benoit Benjamin missing the past three games with a sore back, Dwayne Schintzius has been dusted off and inserted as the starting center. Against O'Neal, the Nets could run out of bodies and be forced to play Williams. The team just won't run any offensive plays for him.

Around the league

New York Knicks coach Pat Riley is attempting an impossible task. Not overtaking the Magic for the best record in the Eastern Conference, but hyping Patrick Ewing as an MVP candidate. "While everyone is talking and clamoring about Shaquille, David Robinson and Hakeem [Olajuwon], people have a tendency to just sort of forget about Patrick," Riley said. "There's not a better all-around center in the league. At all." . . . The 76ers are the only team with more wins on the road (nine) than at home (eight). . . . Former Bullet John Williams may have eaten himself out of the league for the last time. He was released last week by the Indiana Pacers. Williams, who has been as heavy as 340 pounds, was in the 300-pound range at the time of his release. "He's got to get himself together and understand how important it is to get his weight down," Pacers coach Larry Brown said.


Quote of the week

Phoenix Suns forward Charles Barkley, on replacement baseball players: "I wouldn't spit on them if they were on fire."