The question for Michael Jordan was how he keeps things rolling. How, having conquered the world several times over, he continues to stay interested. Is it a mad obsession? A mystical quest? Blind rage? There are only so many times you can overrun Rome, so many chances to burn Atlanta.
Jordan, naturally, had a ready answer. "Everyone's talking about our age and our limitations, what we can do - it's a great challenge," he said. "I love it."Having beaten the Jazz by the largest margin in NBA history Sunday, the Bulls are power brokers once again. They're in control in the NBA Finals, up two games to one and calling their shots. They're talking carefully but confidently about their plans to get a sixth championship.
"We felt very confident we were in control of the series all along, even after losing the first game," said Scottie Pippen.
Nobody argued the point.
As the Jazz await Wednesday's Game 4, there are obvious questions: Whether they have the tenacity to turn this thing around; whether they actually learned anything by going to the Finals last year; whether they're in Chicago for business or pleasure.
The Jazz, of course, aren't just facing a good team in the NBA Finals. They're facing arguably the most famous person on earth; the most revered athlete of his era. They're facing Jordan, true, but they're also facing his aura. Ten billion dollars of economic impact is a lot of aura.
This was supposed to be the Jazz's year. They had their practice run last spring in the NBA Finals, and this time they were coming back with intentions of winning. But Sunday's 42-point loss didn't do much to help. By the third quarter they weren't thinking of winning, they were thinking of escaping with all their limbs.
By most measures, the Jazz should be well on their way to a championship. They needed experience, so they gained it by playing in big playoff games over the years. They needed to win on the road, so they worked doggedly at it, gradually going from a poor road team to a good one. They needed a perimeter scorer, so they traded for Jeff Hornacek. They needed versatility, so they acquired Shandon Anderson and Chris Morris.
They needed a scoring center, so they added Greg Foster. OK, so he's not really a center, but it's hard to quibble about a 6-11 guy who can hit a 17-foot jump shot. They needed a bigger center so they got Greg Ostertag. He's no Hakeem Olajuwon - heck, he's no Jim McIlvane - but he does take up space.
They needed youth and speed, so they added Howard Eisley, Bryon Russell and Anderson. They needed variety in their offense, so Karl Malone developed a 16-foot jumper. They needed rest, so they won the Western Conference Finals in four straight and got 10 days off.
They changed their starting center. They summoned Malone's shooting touch back from vacation.
And still they can't handle the Bulls.
It isn't hard to see that Jordan is once again working his sorcery on the Jazz. He's getting inside their heads, chipping away at their armor. He's sowing the seeds of fear, even as he smoothly gives the Jazz credit.
So when the subject of being able to "impose" his will on others was brought up on Monday, Jordan merely laughed. "I don't know what it is," said Jordan, who is actually fully aware of what it is. "But whatever it is, I hope I continue to do so . . .
"No one's taken anything away from us in five times in the Finals - six times this year - so until someone does that . . . "
Until someone does that, the Jazz can forget about getting the respect they want.
The Jazz's problems with Chicago aren't because they lack desire. If desire were the prime factor, John Stockton would have several championship rings already. "We're in a situation where it's kill or be killed," said Jordan after Sunday night's massacre. "I like to attack, instead of letting people attack us."
Indeed, there is the difference between the teams. Though the Jazz are back this year with depth, experience, talent and versatility, what they don't have is a Ph.D in attitude. And as Jordan said, he's loving it.