If Michael Jordan said it once, he's said it a hundred times: He won't play for any coach but Phil Jackson.
Think he's bluffing? Go ahead, try him.With Jackson gone, Jordan is talking like a man who's already got one foot out the door. He left himself an out Thursday - and His Airness has changed his mind before - but it's a very small one.
"I feel very strong to my decision that I wouldn't play for anybody other than Phil Jackson," Jordan said after playing in a pro-am golf tournament.
"I feel that way right now," he said. "If you ask me that in two or three months, that may change. But I don't think it will. I'm pretty sure that's my decision."
Though he won't make an official announcement about his future until the NBA lockout ends, Jordan's remarks were his strongest yet. But the labor impasse is likely to drag on for several months, leaving the Bulls plenty of time to find some way to make Jordan happy.
That's not what this is about, Jordan insisted. He doesn't want to pick the new coach. He knows chairman Jerry Reinsdorf can choose whomever he wants.
That doesn't mean Jordan has to play for the guy.
"It is his team," Jordan said. "Whatever choice he makes doesn't force me to play for his choice. I have choices at the same time.
"He made a stance on Phil Jackson, and that pretty much makes my stance," he said. "Some people may interpret it as Jerry Reinsdorf is forcing me out of the game. I can either choose to play for that guy he hires or choose not to play."
Reinsdorf said Wednesday he discussed the coaching candidates with Jordan before July 1, adding that Jordan doesn't have veto power. Make no mistake, though, Reinsdorf knows all too well just how important this decision is to Jordan's future.
Reinsdorf did not return a call from The Associated Press on Thursday.
"I think I understand Michael," Reinsdorf said Wednesday. "I would be foolish to hire somebody without feeling confident that this is somebody that Michael could play for."
Could and would are two different things, however. Jordan said he won't play for a college coach or a young coach. That leaves out Iowa State's Tim Floyd, a buddy of general manager Jerry Krause and the apparent front-runner to replace Jackson.
Floyd, whom Jordan derisively referred to as "Pink" during the season, has no NBA coaching experience.
Current NBA assistants Rick Carlisle, Ron Rothstein, Paul Silas and Scott Skiles also have interviewed for the job.
"I don't know Tim Floyd. I don't have anything against Tim Floyd," Jordan said. "To do that is like starting out all over again, and that's what I don't want to do. He may want to do that. But I don't."
When it comes down to it, there's really only one guy Jordan wants: Jackson. Sure, he'd play for former North Carolina coach Dean Smith, but Smith coaching the Bulls is an even slimmer possibility than Jackson coming back.
Which puts Jordan right back where he started.
"I've always stuck to my guns. I always said I would not play without Phil Jackson. I haven't changed that," he said.
Jackson made good on his season-long threat to leave after the Bulls won their sixth title. Reinsdorf asked Jackson back for another year, with or without Scottie Pippen. But Jackson declined, and said he planned to take a year off from basketball.
"I'm pretty sure they made him an offer," Jordan said. "But you kick a guy out at the beginning of the season and you offer him a contract at the end of the season, it doesn't show much loyalty. That's hard to accept. I'm probably sure I wouldn't accept the contract, either.
"Phil's not holding me hostage," Jordan added. "I'm not trying to hold Jerry Reinsdorf hostage. Whatever decisions they make, they make."