ORLANDO, Fla. -- Was this real or was it a comic book?
If it was real, Michael Jordan shouldn't have been able to jump into a phone booth, change uniforms and become Superman, but that's what happened last night.
Jordan donned his old No. 23 and scored 38 points with seven rebounds, four blocks and four steals as the Chicago Bulls defeated the Orlando Magic, 104-94, to tie this NBA semifinal playoff series 1-1 and capture the home-court advantage.
After the game, Jordan changed once more, into a suit and tie, and fled the arena without comment. Maybe he had once more turned into a mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper.
Jordan had been wearing No. 45 since returning from baseball. However, after Jordan's woeful Game 1, Magic guard Nick Anderson fired off a few indiscreet comments suggesting that the 32-year-old had lost something.
Said Anderson: "No. 45 doesn't explode like No. 23 used to. No. 23, he could just blow by you. He took off like a space shuttle. No. 45, he revs up but he really doesn't take off."
The comments appeared in local papers Tuesday. The entire Orlando front office winced.
"Well," Magic coach Brian Hill said, "let me just say, there's an old saying, let a sleeping dog lie. I'm a firm believer in that."
For whatever reason, Jordan took off his warm-ups at game time, without having informed anyone what was coming, to reveal good old No. 23.
He also threw away the wristband that had had NBC announcers speculating he had a sore right wrist.
If this had been a comic strip, Jordan would have scored 100 points and made all his shots. Real life intruded, if only for a while. Jordan made his first two shots, including a three-pointer, and then went 4-for-15 the rest of the half. Not only that, he missed five of eight free throws.
At halftime, Shaquille O'Neal was 9-for-13 from the foul line and people were speculating that the Magic's shooting coach, Buzz Braman, would volunteer to work with Jordan.
The second half was something else.
Jordan got an easy basket right away, Donald Royal throwing a bad pass that Jordan intercepted and took the length of the floor for a dunk. That was like buying a shark a steak dinner.
Jordan made 10 of his last 12 shots. The Bulls were up 80-71 by the fourth quarter and the Magic never challenged.
Jordan didn't take over at the expense of not involving others in the offense. Scottie Pippen also rebounded from a subpar performance (seven points on 2-for-11 shooting in Game 1) with 22 points as Chicago shot 51 percent compared to 44 percent in the opener.
"There's still a lot of ball left, but this gives us a real boost," the Bulls' Steve Kerr said.
Anderson, asked later if his comments had prompted Jordan to switch, conceded, "Maybe he did, I don't know."
Beyond that, however, Anderson claimed he was commenting on the numbers, not Jordan's age.
"I don't think I said anything out of place," Anderson said. "I think what I said is true. You know, he came out in 23. He showed what 23 can do. I didn't say anything down-rating about him. I voiced an opinion and my opinion was, I think he's better wearing No. 23."
Right you are, Nick.
O'Neal, meanwhile, spent another night getting held, grabbed, double-teamed and swarmed under by the Bulls. He was held to three shots in the first half and finished with 25 points and 12 rebounds.
Horace Grant had 23 points and 15 rebounds for Orlando, while Anfernee Hardaway scored 20.
"They get on TV," said O'Neal. "They say they're going to foul me, they do foul me and I do whatever I can to break loose and they call fouls on me. It seems like hockey or wrestling out there. I need you, Hulk! I need you, man!"
That's Hulk Hogan, of course.
For a final irony, O'Neal tried to change his number recently, to the No. 33 he wore at Louisiana State. The Magic asked the NBA office, which said no.
Jordan changed his number all by himself. Magic general manager Pat Williams announced plans to protest this game, but he was kidding.
What will Jordan wear for Game 3 tomorrow in Chicago? Will he ever talk again? As they say in the comics, to be continued.