Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

He's Baa-Aack! Jordan Returns, to Face Pacers Sunday

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

He's Baa-Aack! Jordan Returns, to Face Pacers Sunday

Article excerpt

From the day he cleaned out his locker March 2 in Florida and headed north, the question of Michael Jordan returning to the National Basketball Association has always been when, not if. The answer is Sunday. The site is Market Square Arena. The opponent is the Indiana Pacers.

The gratitude on the part of the star-starved NBA and its television ally, NBC, which will broadcast the game (11 a.m. St. Louis time; KSDK, Channel 5) is boundless.

Jordan made it official Saturday. In a brief statement issued by his agent, David Falk, he said, simply, "I'm back." That was all the Bulls needed to hear. Rookie Dickey Simpkins then earned a spot in NBA trivia by conveniently coming down with Achilles' tendinitis and heading to the injured list, creating a roster opening for the 32-year-old ultrastar.

The people of Chicago, who have been pumped up since Jordan began practicing with the Bulls two weeks ago, won't get to see their prodigal guard until Friday. The Bulls will be in Boston on Wednesday, the night the Celtics retire the No. 35 jersey worn by the late Reggie Lewis.

The Bulls did not elaborate on the conditions that paved the way for Jordan's return. Jordan continued to draw his basketball salary while playing baseball because the same man, Jerry Reinsdorf, owns both the Bulls and the White Sox. The Bulls cannot alter his $4 million contract because of a leaguewide moratorium.

Jordan, who said he had nothing left to prove when he retired in October 1993 after his third consecutive NBA title, now has a great deal to prove. Can he measure up against his own, majestic image, which has grown even larger during his absence? Can he be a miracle worker? The Bulls have plodded along all season, hovering around .500, not only because of the absence of Jordan, but also because of the departure of four key players from their championship years: Horace Grant, Bill Cartwright, John Paxson and Scott Williams.

In fact, the only players left from the 1993 world champions are Will Perdue (who wasn't on the playoff roster that year), Scottie Pippen and B.J. Armstrong. Chicago is 34-31, six games behind the first-place Pacers in the Central Division and in sixth place overall in the Eastern Conference. They have lost almost as many games (12) at the new United Center, the building with a 2,000-pound statue of Jordan at the entrance, as they did in the last two years Jordan played (15).

The NBA will welcome back the classy Jordan as the antithesis of the growing band of brat-pack stars who have dominated headlines this year. The league's television partners, TNT, TBS and NBC, have been drooling over the return of the man who can deliver ratings numbers like no one else. The 1993 NBA finals, which featured Jordan, drew the highest ratings for a championship series. Last year's finals between Houston and New York was a ratings dud. …

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