|Wednesday, April 16
Snapshots of a legend's last game
By Wayne Drehs
PHILADELPHIA -- Six months ago, Washington Wizards head coach Doug Collins didn't believe this day would come.
He didn't think Michael Jordan would get the send off he deserved. Not because his team would be in the playoffs, never knowing of Jordan's last game until it was over, but because Jordan looked awful in practice and Collins didn't see any way Jordan would be fit to play the season.
Somehow, he did. In all 82 games. And on a near-perfect 80-degree day on Wednesday, Jordan got the farewell that others can only dream of. These are the snapshots from that day -- the glimpses at the very last time arguably the greatest basketball player of all time laced up his Air Jordans, slipped a black armband up his left arm and pulled an NBA jersey over his head.
4:15 p.m. Four Seasons Hotel, downtown Philadelphia
Tony and Lisa DuPiccio are there with their 12-week old daughter Sonia. "She doesn't know the difference right now, but I want to be able to tell her one day that she saw Michael Jordan on the day he played his last game," Lisa says. "I left work early for this."
Despite having a baby, the DuPiccio family is still sandwiched amid 42 other sweating bodies on their side of the barrier. Others stand on light poles. Yet others gather on a median in the middle of the six-lane road where the bus rests. If this group even gets a view, it will only be for a split second.
Finally, just before 5 p.m., Jordan, the last Wizard to get on the bus, emerges from the hotel. The crowd is instantly in a buzz.
He's wearing a light green suit, a white shirt and a sharp yellow tie. They are colors that don't make any sense, yet on Jordan, on this day, looks perfect. Though he's wearing sunglasses, he's without his traditional headphones. In the seven strides from the door to the bus, he acknowledges the adoring throng by revealing an electrically endearing smile to both sides. Perhaps it's due to the fact that earlier in the day, he was able to play 18 holes at Philadelphia's historic Pine Valley Golf Club.
On his way through the bus, Jordan gets a knuckle knock from several fellow Wizards, including head coach Doug Collins and assistant coach Patrick Ewing. He finally takes his traditional seat in the last row on the left side and pulls out his cell phone for the 15-minute drive to the First Union Center.
6:05 p.m., First Union Center, Wizards locker room
"When he walks off the floor for the last time, it's going to be an emotional thing," Collins said. "There's part of Mike that I think would rather just play 10 minutes and call it a night. But he knows these people are here to see him.
"I told him, 'If he wants to play 48 and shoot 50 times, go ahead.' It's his night."
6:55 p.m. First Union Center, center court
Almost immediately, Sixers guard Eric Snow grabs the in-house microphone.
"Hey Mike -- what's up, Mike," Snow says.
In comes a shiny new green golf cart, driven by none other than Dr. J and Moses Malone. The cart has the "jumpman" logo on the hood and the No. 23 with both the Wizards and Bulls logos on the license plates. It's draped in a giant red bow.
Dr. J and Malone drive the cart in and give Jordan a long hug. He takes the mic, thanks the Sixers and heads back to his teammates, who give him all sorts of grief for the geezer-like gift.
"I had a good time," Jordan would say after the game, "but I was a little worried about Moses driving that cart."
"I remember my Dad talking about Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth and I remember how in love I was with Jackie Robinson growing up in Brooklyn," Brown said. "I even walked like him. And then my son got to see Michael and spend some time with him. He's going to say the same things about Michael as I said about Jackie."
The showering of applause goes on for three minutes before a spotlight on Jordan is shut off and the Sixers begin their introduction. Clay, who was let go from the Bulls for reportedly introducing Jordan too enthusiastically during Jordan's first game in Chicago with the Wizards, walks by the Washington bench and gives Jordan a hug.
There's the free-throw line dunk in the 1988 All-Star Game. A dunk over giant Manute Bol. A triple reverse against the Pistons. The famous, "A Shot in Ehlo, it's good!" from the 1989 playoffs. The five straight 3-pointers against Portland in the 1992 Finals. And that endearing smile.
Yet it's Cosby, who wishes Jordan wasn't retiring, whose words speak loudest.
"I've seen the guys that had to leave," Cosby said. "I've seen the guys who stayed around too long. And he's nowhere near that."
"We want Mike! We want Mike!"
But Jordan is sore and stiff. And he doesn't really want to return to the floor. Yet the cheers continue. Everyone is on their feet.
"We want MIKE! We want MIKE!"
"I said, 'Michael, these people want to see you. I understand (that you're stiff), but you know, this outpouring of love and affection is coming in my direction here. I played here. I've at least got to be able to come back to this city. You've got to go back in,' " Collins explained.
The cheers still continue, yet Jordan doesn't budge. Finally, at the 2:35 mark of the fourth quarter, after Larry Hughes picked up his sixth personal foul, Jordan reluctantly agrees and enters the game one last time.
The arena erupts.
Seconds later, Jordan is intentionally fouled by Snow. He walks to the free-throw line amidst the continuing chorus of cheers and shares a quick moment with official Steve Javie, who officiated nearly all of Jordan's championship games with the Bulls.
"I told him he was a class act," Javie said after the game. "And then I turned around and told all the young guys out there, 'You could do a lot worse than modeling yourselves after this guy.' "
Jordan sinks both free throws, goes back on defense and then checks out seconds later when Bobby Simmons fouls John Salmons. His final line: 6-of-15 from the floor, 15 points, four rebounds, four assists.
The arena continues to rumble and doesn't stop until the final buzzer sounds and Jordan is up the tunnel and out of sight.
"I didn't think I was going back in the game," Jordan said. "Obviously, the game didn't merit me going back in and getting my competitive juices flowing because we were 25 points down. But they wanted to see me make a couple of baskets and then come off. That was very, very respectful. And I had a good time."
10:12 p.m., First Union Center press room
He holds up the stat sheet, looks at the jam-packed room in front of him and says, "I told everybody in our locker room we have to save this. This is history."
Brown goes on to urge the NBA, much like baseball did with Jackie Robinson and hockey with Wayne Gretzky, to retire No. 23 on all of its teams.
"Hopefully some day, you will walk into an arena, see No. 23 hanging up there and realize what an impact he had on our sport," Brown says.
Sixers guard Allen Iverson has his own take: "There's not any perfect people in this world. But he's close."
"I guess now it hits me that I'm not going to be in a uniform anymore," Jordan says. "And that's not a terrible feeling. It's not terrible. It's time."
10:31 p.m., First Union Center hallway
But along the way, Javie is there. He's timed this perfectly. He shifts through the crowd, taps Jordan on the shoulder and politely asks, "Hey Michael, can you say hi to my nephew?"
The man's career is over. He's on his way out of the building, likely headed for a golf course and a pina colada in the Caribbean. He doesn't owe anybody a thing. In fact, the game owes him. And yet, in the middle of this post-press conference craziness, in the middle of this sea of cameras and boom mics, he stops. He smiles. And shakes hands with young Jake Javie.
And then he tells him, in jest, "Your uncle is an awful referee."
The three of them laugh. Javie says thanks and Jordan is on his way, leaving through a side door. The last thing we see of him is the back of his head. The elder Javie, meanwhile, is left smiling.
"That's Michael Jordan," he says. "That's the way he's always been. And you know what? When you get right down to it -- that's the reason he'll be so missed."
Wayne Drehs is a staff writer for ESPN.com.