His messages come at the end of ankle-breaking drives and fadeaway jumpers alike. They are delivered with loud, thunderous dunks or the quiet hiss of a ball barely rippling the net.
Either way, there is no mistaking what Michael Jordan says to the people in charge of the Chicago Bulls with every basket: Do not make this thing end.Tuesday night, in Game 2 of the series against the Indiana Pacers, he does everything but run the concession stands. Forty-one points, five assists, four rebounds, four steals. He slices and dices the Pacers twice in the final minutes. One time Jordan falls to his knees, keeps his dribble, knifes between two defenders and gets the bounce on a runner. The next time, he loses one defender, picks up a second on a helter-skelter dash to the baseline, stops like a matador waving a bull past, and coolly drains a short jumper.
Jordan does not stop and scan the luxury box above midcourt to find out if owner Jerry Reinsdorf is looking down. He does not so much as steal a glimpse toward the lower rows of very expensive seats where NBA commissioner David Stern and a few of his high-powered television pals are looking on. He could care less if general manager Jerry Krause is even in the building.
After the win, Jordan does not feel compelled to say whether or not he will come back next season. He believes the only things he needs to focus on for the time being are in front of him. Up two games to none, he and his band of not-always-very-merry Bulls head for Indianapolis to play out the string against the Pacers.
Then they will play whichever Western Conference team arrives to provide the villains for their sixth championship run. Then he and his sidekicks - teammates Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman and coach Phil Jackson - will play "chicken" with Reinsdorf one more time.
Pacers coach Larry Bird is unhappy with the way the referees have called the first two games. Pippen has draped himself over Indiana's point guard, Mark Jackson and disrupted the Pacers offense to no end. Bird was a great player once, one of the best ever, so he understands who always gets the calls and why.
"What I'd like to see," Bird said finally, "is Scottie guard Michael full court like he guarded Mark Jackson. I'd like to see how long he lasts then."
A moment later, Bird has considered the possibility. "So," he concluded, "that's one reason for him to stay in Chicago."
Now the can of worms is open. The comments are relayed to Pippen. He is a step ahead of Bird. He covers Jordan in practice sometimes; he apparently has considered what it would be like covering him in a game.
"Right now, that's impossible," Pippen said.
A sly smile creases his lips.
"This season, anyway."
Then the smile erupts into a grin.
"Besides, he's retiring."