New contract could send Jordan into stratosphere

Chicago Bulls guard Michael Jordan made his comeback somewhat complete on Sunday when he walked away with the Most Valuable Player Award at the All-Star game in San Antonio. Somewhat, because there's still this little business of determining Jordan's worth in the game.

Jordan has, for years, been underpaid. He's making $4 million this season, which ranked 14th among the 24 all-stars in San Antonio. Jordan joins a banner crop of unrestricted free agents at the end of this season, and plans to let the Bulls make the first move.


"I want to see what [Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf] thinks my worth is before I make a suggestion," Jordan said. "Let him be my agent, in a sense, against himself. What I'm saying is that you can send a good message with this deal. That's what I'm looking for.

"I'm not looking to cripple him from a business standpoint," Jordan added. "But don't play me for a fool, either. I just want to see what he feels I'm worth compared with what his business makes."


Jordan said he will wait until all the other major unrestricted free agents are signed (the group includes Shaquille O'Neal, Alonzo Mourning, Dikembe Mutombo, Reggie Miller and Kenny Anderson) before he signs. With the starting point for most of that group probably starting at $10 million per year, the salary for Jordan will likely start at $20 million per season.

Room to maneuver

The New York Knicks are hardly a better team after last week's trade that got them J. R. Reid and Brad Lohaus and a No. 1 pick, in exchange for Charles Smith and Monty Williams. They're simply freeing up money so they can get involved in the free-agent sweepstakes.

New York was able to unload the $3.35 million salary of Smith. Reid ($2.6 million) is a free agent and Lohaus has another year left. Neither is expected back next season.

That should leave the Knicks with close to $8 million in the off-season.

"I think the trade speaks for itself," New York general manager Ernie Grunfeld said. "We head into the summer in terrific shape, cap-wise."

Meanwhile, the Spurs, believe Smith can help them in their quest for a Western Conference title.

"I remember Charles when he was with the Clippers, he was great," David Robinson said. "He can block shots, play defense, score. He will help us."


Which is exactly what the Knicks thought, although Smith often played soft and never could get into the good graces of Madison Square Garden fans who will never forget his failure in the closing seconds of the playoff game against Chicago several years ago. Smith was booed repeatedly in New York, but was given a loud ovation by San Antonio fans on Tuesday.

"That felt great, it gave me goose bumps," Smith said of the ovation. "It gave me the adrenaline to play."

Shaq not star-struck

Shaquille O'Neal has a message to fans who will vote in the future for All-Star teams: "I ask the fans that they don't vote for me anymore. I'd rather take those days off to work on my game."

O'Neal is still upset that he didn't win the MVP award in Sunday's game, losing out to Jordan. Seven media members voted for the award, which made it no surprise that O'Neal refused to speak to reporters after scoring 30 points and grabbing 12 rebounds against the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday. O'Neal sneaked out of the Orlando Arena emergency-exit door, setting off a fire alarm and ignoring a security guard who said he couldn't leave through that door.

On Monday, O'Neal said he may not participate in another All-Star Game.


"The All-Star game was fun, but I think that was my last one," O'Neal said. "I'm just tired of it. I just don't know what I've got to do to get respect. I don't get the same treatment that the other so-called stars do."

If the Magic beats Milwaukee tonight, it will tie the NBA record for consecutive home victories (27) to start a season. Orlando and the Bulls (23-0) are the league's only two teams that are undefeated at home. The 1985-86 Boston Celtics own the best

record for a season at home (40-1).

Around the league

Isiah Thomas will be the fifth player in Detroit Pistons history to have his jersey retired on Saturday. . . . The Tim Hardaway/Latrell Sprewell feud spilled out onto the floor in Tuesday's game against the Boston Celtics when the two Golden State Warriors teammates cursed each other during the final two minutes of the first quarter, and on the bench at the end of the quarter. "It was just something that happened on the floor and we left it at that," Sprewell said. . . . Golden State rookie Joe Smith, after his impressive showing in the rookie game, was 1-for-10 from the field in his first game back. "I saw what he did Saturday, but I didn't know what he did Saturday night and Sunday. He looked tired [for Monday night's game]," Warriors coach Rick Adelman said. Said Smith, stroking his chin and

grinning: "I was out a little bit."


Quote of the week

From former Lakers guard Happy Hairston, member of the 1971-72 team that won 69 games, explaining why he isn't concerned about the Bulls breaking the regular-season record:

"I don't get paid residuals on it. That and 15 cents won't get me on the subway."