NEW YORK -- In the theater of the absurd, the world of the supernatural and the life of Michael Jordan, it wasn't all that incredible.
Four games after two years off. Eight practices. A 32-point game, including a game-winner Saturday. And then this.
Jordan strolls into the grandest, most intense basketball theater of them all last night, wades into comparisons of Muhammad Ali and Frank Sinatra returning to Madison Square Garden after long absences -- and blows it all away. Makes it look silly. Makes them look like two old guys with no reflexes and no pipes.
Makes this game his own, scoring 55 points, dishing out the game-winning assist to an open Bill Wennington for the Bulls' 113-111 victory over the New York Knicks, and then tells us with a straight face that yeah, this is about right.
"I knew I wasn't that far away," he said. "I guess it took four games to really get my rhythm down. I was nervous it was going to take longer."
With the accomplishment, Jordan:
* Set an NBA season high for most points and most field goals in a game this year.
* Broke his own record for points scored by a Knicks opponent.
* Gave the Bulls their first victory in New York since Game 5 of the 1993 Eastern Conference finals.
"It was a statement that Michael Jordan is back to play basketball, no question," said Bulls coach Phil Jackson. "But I don't know if it's a statement that we're back to playing our kind of basketball yet."
Of course, none of that mattered in the moment, as Jordan's teammates shook their heads and Knicks fans shook their heads and Knicks players shook their heads all night long.
Can Jordan keep this up, a New York reporter asked almost fearfully?
"I don't know," Jordan shrugged. "That's the fun thing about it. Tomorrow, you don't know what I will do."
It's hard to imagine he can continue to top himself after last night.
Jordan scored on six of his first seven attempts. He was 9 of 11 in the first quarter for 20 points and 14 of 19 in the half for 35, six coming from the foul line. He had 49 points through three quarters.
On the night, he was 21 of 37 for his 55, including 3 of 4 from three-point range and 10 of 11 from the foul line.
"He amazes me," said Jackson simply.
Jordan, who last scored 50 or more points in New York in the '86 opener, said he wasn't out to prove anything.
"I forgot how to make a statement," he said. "I just wanted to let myself get into a rhythm. I was trying to let the game come to me."
Jordan finally got a sustained breather to start the fourth quarter as the Bulls took advantage of Patrick Ewing's absence, shrugging off Herb Williams and hitting six of their first seven shots, including three three-pointers to take their biggest lead at 99-90 with 7:33 left.
Ewing, however, scored eight unanswered points to bring the Knicks within one. The Bulls got two key offensive rebounds by Will Perdue and Corie Blount, along with another Jordan jumper to grab a seven-point lead at 105-98 with 3:36 left.
But the Knicks, who went 11 of 16 from the line in the fourth quarter, used a Ewing jumper, 5-of-6 free throw shooting and a breakaway slam by John Starks after a Ewing block of Jordan to tie the score at 107 with 1:15 showing.
A jumper by Scottie Pippen was countered by two free throws from Ewing to keep the game tied with 39 seconds left. A Jordan jumper from the wing over the head of Starks put the Bulls ahead 111-109. But Starks then drew Perdue's sixth foul on a drive with 14 seconds remaining, and nailed both free throws to knot it at 111, setting up the final play.
Jordan took the inbounds pass from Pippen and drove the ball straight upcourt, just like in Atlanta. But when the roving Ewing came over to double-team him on the right wing, Jordan threaded the ball to a wide-open Wennington for the slam.
"I'd be lying if I said I was coming out to pass the ball," Jordan said. "I was coming out to score, but then Patrick came over to help and I saw Bill."
Jordan accounted for 20 of the Bulls' 31 points in the first quarter and 15 of their 19 points in the second quarter. The Bulls, currently slated to play the Knicks in the first round of the playoffs, went scoreless the first 3 1/2 minutes of the period.