Michael Jordan’s fabulous career came to an end amid cheers and tears as his Washington Wizards were trounced 107-87 by the Philadelphia 76ers, who clinched home-court advantage in the first round of the play-offs.
Perhaps the greatest player in NBA history, Jordan scored 15 points in the finale to his 15-year career, which included 10 scoring titles, six championships, five MVP awards, two comebacks and a seemingly endless reel of highlights.
It was a day-long celebration in “The City of Brotherly Love”, where the folks who perfected the art of booing showed Number 23 they could cheer long and loud, too.
Prior to the game, 76ers greats Julius Erving and Moses Malone accompanied Eric Snow in greeting Jordan, who received a hug from Erving and a golf cart from Snow on behalf of the team.
During the pre-game introductions, the Sixers turned the microphone over to Ray Clay, the former public address announcer of the Chicago Bulls who launched into his patented growl: “From North ... Carolina ... 6-6 ... number 23 ... Michael ...Jordan!!!”
As Jordan shook hands with Clay, a two-minute standing ovation ensued.
Jordan rocked back and forth, trying not to cry while staring at the sneakers that he turned into a status symbol.
Although he departs with the highest scoring average at 30.2 points, Jordan’s finale left the sell-out crowd of 21,257 and a national TV audience wanting a bit more.
He made 6-of-15 shots and had just one dunk – from right underneath the hoop at the end of the first half.
With 4:13 left in the period and the Wizards trailing, 75-56, Jordan went to the bench for rookie Juan Dixon.
Despite repeated chants of “We Want Mike!” at the First Union Centre, it appeared he would not return.
Then with 2:35 left, Jordan re-entered to a roar.
Fifty seconds later, Snow gave a foul to put him on the line, and Jordan sank two free throws to countless glimmers of flash bulbs.
The Wizards quickly gave a foul and Jordan exited to an ovation that lasted three minutes and culminated with Washington coach Doug Collins pushing him onto the floor to give a final wave to an adoring crowd.
Jordan said leaving basketball was like losing a best friend after he and the sport had shared a great relationship.
“Basketball has been my life,” he said. “No way you would ever have come in contact with me without the game of basketball. No way would I have been in contact with a lot of other people without the game of basketball.
“It gave me an outlet. It gave me a chance to experience life all over the world, not just here in the States. It taught me a lot of things about life in terms of respect, hard work, determination, achievement, setting goals, a lot of basic things in life.
“I’ve used the game as much as the game has used me, as a method of teaching the game and passing on the correct way to play the game.
“It obviously gave me a lot of opportunities in terms of materialistic things as well as being able to touch people’s lives.
“We’ve been a great relationship. It’s been like my best friend, but sometimes you have to grow up and move away from your best friend.
“It’s always going to be there in my mind and nothing is going to erase what I have attained just by having basketball as a friend.”