ORLANDO, Fla. -- The basketball was in Michael Jordan's hands, the Chicago Bulls were up a point on the Orlando Magic, and 10 seconds remained in their playoff game. In life, as we know, not many things are safe and secure -- but this was about as solid as they come.
And then, as Jordan said afterward, with a shrug of the shoulders, "things happened."
Bad things. To the Bulls. To Jordan. To logic.
Jordan played perhaps the most careless 10 seconds of his basketball life yesterday. He was stripped from behind by the Magic's Nick Anderson, which allowed Orlando to score the winning basket. Then, in his attempt to rectify the situation and straighten his halo, Jordan inexplicably bypassed a shot and threw away the Bulls' last hope at Orlando Arena.
The Magic edged the Bulls, 94-91, in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference semifinal mostly because Jordan did not make good on the Bulls' unwritten agreement. They're supposed to keep games close and allow Jordan to snatch victory. Jordan built his massive legend on this formula. This time, however, the most important ingredient was missing.
This meat loaf lacked the ground beef.
"I wouldn't say lack of concentration," said an apologetic Jordan, "just a mistake on my part. It happens to the best of us. It sure doesn't feel good knowing you determined the outcome of the game. It's disappointing when the game's in your hands and you're unable to deliver."
Jordan was simply trying to dribble out the clock, and hoping to get fouled, when he crossed midcourt with Anderson tailing him like a shadow. Jordan slipped past Anderson and lost the Magic guard for a fatal microsecond in his rearview mirror. And when Jordan finally turned his head, it was in the wrong direction.
"He looked over his left shoulder," Anderson said, "but I was on the other side." Anderson sneaked behind and slapped the ball to teammate Penny Hardaway, who sprinted downcourt and fed Horace Grant for a dunk that gave the Magic a 92-91 lead with six seconds remaining.
Most surprising about this sequence: Anderson didn't hear a whistle. His strip was clean, but in these playoffs, where officials are being accused of favoring Jordan, there was reason to fear the sound of a screech.
"Hey man, the ref knew he couldn't make a call," Magic forward Dennis Scott said. "No contact, man . . . . Even they could see that."
After Grant's basket, Jordan took the inbounds pass for one last stab at heroics. He tried unsuccessfully to shake Orlando's Donald Royal off the dribble before pulling up for an apparent jumper. In midair, Jordan called an audible and looked to pass. Too bad he didn't inform Scottie Pippen, who started to break toward the basket. Jordan's eighth turnover sailed behind Pippen and the Bulls were done.
"I had a pretty good shot," Jordan explained. "I just thought he had a better shot. The defense was keying on me so much that I thought Scottie had a better chance."
All right, so the timing on the pass was off. That happens. But it's rare when Jordan defers in such dire times of need.
"I sure thought he was going to the basket," Anderson said. "Then I thought he was going up with it. When he passed it away, all I could say was, 'Yessss.' "
Actually, Jordan's errors culminated a weird night. Neither Jordan (8-for-22) nor Pippen (2-for-11) could buy a basket for much of the game, and yet the Magic never could make it a rout. During one 15-minute second-half stretch, Bill Wennington and Will Perdue, two-thirds of the Bulls' three-headed center, actually scored 14 of 35 Chicago points. There's more. Shaquille O'Neal, the noted free-throw brickster, hit 12 of 16 from the line, including his first seven. He finished with 26 points.
Nothing, however, was more bizarre and unexpected than the sight of goat horns sprouting from Jordan's head. When was the last time Jordan looked so sloppy and let one slip away?
"It's happened before," he said, "although it was a long time ago. I was personally responsible for a lot of baseball losses, but they don't count."
Chicago .. 19 .. 24 .. 22 .. 26 .. -- .. 91
Orlando .. 22 .. 21 .. 26 .. 25 .. -- .. 94