The Associated Press
INDIANAPOLIS Ä Michael Jordan, gone from the game for 21 months, returned to the NBA yesterday but his Chicago Bulls lost to the Indianapolis Pacers 103-96 in overtime.
Jordan, wearing No. 45 in the Bulls road red uniform instead of his retired No. 23, received a long ovation from the sellout crowd of more than 16,000 as he stepped on the court for the opening tip.
The reaction in an opposing arena was perhaps the most eloquent statement of how much the fans and the league wanted the return of one of the most exciting players ever in any sport.
Jordan, 32, appeared to be not far from game conditioning, playing a remarkable 45 minutes, but nonetheless was rusty, shooting just 7-for-28 from the field. Jordan, who showed flashes of his old self, finished with 19 points, six rebounds, six assists and three steals.
''My timing was a little bit off,'' Jordan said after the game. ''I know it's not going to happen in one game. But hey, I'm back.''
He missed his first five shots Ä with one blocked Ä before being rested after playing 8:59 of the first quarter. The Bulls trailed 21-15 after one quarter.
Jordan returned with 9:47 left in the second quarter and the Bulls trailing 26-21. He missed a left-hand drive to the hoop and committed a personal foul before finally getting the first point of his second NBA career.
Fouled on a wild drive in the lane, Jordan missed the first free throw, hearing
some jeers from the crowd, then made the second, finally scoring after being 0-6 from the field and 0-1 from the foul line.
With Jordan on the court and Reggie Miller of the Pacers taking charge, the Bulls fell farther behind. Jordan's first field goal came on an 18-foot jump shot from the left side of the key with about four minutes left in the second quarter, but it merely cut the Bulls' deficit to 16.
Jordan seemed to find his rhythm in the last few minutes of the second quarter and finished the half with seven points on 2-for-9 shooting, two rebounds and one assist as the Bulls trailed 47-37.
The seven-time NBA scoring champ last played a game that counted in June, 1993 when the Bulls won their last of three consecutive championships. Jordan returned in a game televised nationally by NBC rather than at home.
Jordan, who flew into Indianapolis on a private plane, got to the stadium over three hours before the noon EST game and started shooting around at 8:44 a.m.
During the national anthem, Jordan stared at the floor, chewing intensely on a piece of gum and rocking nervously back and forth from foot to foot, looking up just before the song's end.
The pro-Pacers crowd reacted with scattered boos for each of the first four Bulls' starters introduced. Then, with Jordan saved for last, rose to their feet and welcomed him back with a long, loud ovation.
Jordan, who abandoned his attempt at being a major-league baseball player earlier this month, touched the ball for the first time just seconds into the game when the Pacers turned it over under their own basket. He dribbled the ball briefly, then passed to a teammate.
The Bulls set up and got the ball to Jordan, who missed a jumper in traffic from near the right edge of the free throw line. The Bulls got the rebound, got the ball back to Jordan and he shot Ä and missed Ä again.
Several minutes into the game there was a timeout. Michael Jordan was scoreless, but he was back.
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