| Michael Jordan blows a bubble while sitting on the bench during his last game for Washington Wizards in Philadelphia Wednesday. (Reuters)
Philadelphia: Michael Jordan’s final shot was a free throw, and like his final appearance in an NBA uniform, it was good.
Jordan played the last game of his illustrious career last night, receiving a lengthy standing ovation from nearly everyone in the arena — including the coaches and the other players.
Jordan soaked it all up with a wide smile and a wave to the crowd after exiting the game for good with 1:44 remaining in the fourth quarter of a 87-107 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers.
“Now I guess it hits me that I’m not going to be in a uniform anymore — and that’s not a terrible feeling,” Jordan said afterward. “It’s something that I’ve come to grips with, and it’s time. This is the final retirement.”
Jordan finished with 15 points, four rebounds and four assists in 28 minutes — drawing several adoring ovations from the last sellout crowd that will ever watch him play.
“The Philly people did a great job. They gave me the biggest inspiration, in a sense,” Jordan said. “Obviously, 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.”
Jordan’s final points almost looked scripted, with Eric Snow of the 76ers fouling Jordan in the backcourt, for no apparent reason except to send him to the line.
“Coach (Larry Brown) told me to foul him, get him to the line to get some points and get him out of there,” Snow said.
Both foul shots went in, and the Wizards committed a foul one second later so that Jordan could be removed from the game and receive the proper send-off. In a rare scene, the 10 players who remained on the court turned to Jordan and applauded, too.
The 40-year-old Jordan would have preferred to end his career in the playoffs, but the Wizards never clicked during his two years in Washington and finished 37-45 in both seasons.
But that was merely a footnote on this stirring night, the last time the basketball public was treated to one of the greatest athletes in history playing the game one last time.
Jordan finished his career with 32,292 points — the third -highest total in league history, behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Karl Malone. His final career average of 30.12 goes down as the best in NBA history, just ahead of Wilt Chamberlain’s 30.07.
“I never, never took the game for granted. I was very true to the game, and the game was very true to me. It was just that simple,” Jordan said.
With the Sixers ahead by 21 points with 9 ½ minutes remaining, the crowd began chanting “we want Mike.” The chant grew louder as the period progressed with Jordan remaining seated, and fans ignored the game to stand and stare at the Wizards’ bench, wondering why Jordan wasn’t playing.
Eventually, this being Philadelphia, they booed.
Jordan finally pulled his warm-ups off and re-entered the game with 2:35 left for his brief final appearance.
“I played here. I told him I at least have to be able to come back (to Philadelphia),” Wizards coach Doug Collins said. ”I told him to go back in for a minute. He said, ‘I’m stiff.’ I said, ‘please. They want to see you.’ he said, ‘Larry Hughes is going to foul out soon, so put me in then.”’
Earlier in the game, Jordan showed his age. There was a play in the first quarter when Jordan looked like the Jordan of old — except for the result. Starting near the foul line, Jordan ducked his shoulder, lowered his head, stuck out his tongue and drove to his right, the ball rolling off his fingers ever so softly as it arched toward the net.
Rather than going in, though, the ball hit the front rim and missed — one of several of his shots that came up a few inches short.
One of the exceptions was Jordan’s final shot of the first half — a one-handed dunk that came after he received a nice pass under the basket from Bobby Simmons.
Jordan hit his first two shots of the third quarter but didn’t do much else positive in the period. On an alley-oop pass from Tyronn Lue, the ball hit him in the fingertips and bounced harmlessly away. A lazy crosscourt pass was picked off by Aaron McKie, leading to one of Philadelphia’s 31 fast-break points, and Jordan’s final field-goal attempt was a missed layup with 8:13 remaining.
“I’m not embarrassed,” Jordan said, “but it’s just not... I’ve had better feelings in terms of playing a competitive game.”
Many people in the sellout crowd wore Jordan replica jerseys, including one small boy in an oversized Black Bulls jersey who wasn’t looking when Jordan tussled his hair as the boy walked along the sideline. When the child turned around, he was stunned.
The 76ers had a couple of pre-game surprises for Jordan, presenting him with a golf cart that was driven onto the court by Moses Malone and Julius Erving, then having long time Chicago Bulls public address announcer Ray Clay introduce Jordan with his familiar inflection of “from north Carolina ...”
The standing ovation that Jordan received lasted about three minutes, with Jordan smiling, nodding and chewing gum throughout. The group Boyz II Men sang “it’s so hard to say goodbye” between the first and second quarters as a montage of Jordan’s career highlights was shown on the scoreboard.
Jordan’s best moments — his shot over Craig Ehlo in Cleveland, his shoulder-shrug after hitting all those 3-pointers against Portland in the finals, his switching-hands layup against the Lakers — will be what most people remember most about his career. His last two seasons in Washington will be somewhat of a footnote.
“We both feel the same way right now: we’re very, very disappointed,” Wizards coach Doug Collins said earlier Wednesday. “We had good players, we just didn’t fit. So I know there’s a part of him that was hoping we could make the playoffs to show that we did the right thing and made the right moves, but if we lose tonight, we’re basically the same team we were a year ago, record-wise.”