Ex-Wildcats led Jordan back

Revelation of the Week: Michael Jordan's return to the basketball world where he rightfully belongs was influenced by two University of Arizona grads.

Far-fetched, you say? Sounds like an Oliver Stone movie?

But it's highly probable.

In the long list of reasons Jordan returned to the NBA, a list that includes baseball's labor problems and his desire to see if he can dominate a sport once again, the names Terry Francona and Steve Kerr were likely included.

Back in the days when Jordan played baseball, he was given a realistic perspective by his minor league and fall league manager, former UA All-American Terry Francona. Francona pushed Jordan along while keeping the basketball legend's ego in check by not giving him any delusions of grandeur as to his baseball future.

"I try to help him in all aspects," Francona said Nov. 28 when his Scottsdale Scorpions played at Hi Corbett Field in Jordan's only baseball appearance in Tucson. "We try to get him to understand what he needs to do. He takes off from there. He's got to play. There's only so much we can do."

Jordan looked like a less-than-mediocre baseball player on that cold winter night. Even though he was 1-for-3 with one RBI, a run scored, two walks and two stolen bases, there may have been some generosity involved.

The problem was, nobody wanted to say anything. After all, he seemed dedicated to his dream of playing in the majors.

"I still love the game," he said that night. "Deep down inside, I feel like I've made some progress. I didn't come in expecting to hit 15 or 20 home runs and put up some unbelievable numbers. I just came in to learn as much as I can and go into spring training with a little bit more information."

A player whose skills would fit in with any of the modern-day replacement players was being treated the same way he was after dominating on the basketball court. But he struggled to hit .200 in the minors. We were all tired of seeing Jordan play baseball while wondering if he could still handle the basketball with the same magnificence as he had throughout his NBA days.

Unless you've fallen off the face of the earth, you know Jordan's back.

But it was during Jordan's thoughts about returning to basketball that he supposedly realized the Chicago Bulls still had chances to go places this year. After all, they had failed to trade Scottie Pippen, a player disliked by many but a favorite of Jordan's. What the Bulls also had was a solid playmaking point guard who could dish the ball off to Jordan on the wing for three-pointers and easy drives. That point guard is former UA standout Steve Kerr.

Kerr, a six-year NBA veteran and an integral part of the 1988 Final Four team, has been somewhat of a surprise after years of obscurity since bouncing around the league from Phoenix to Cleveland to Orlando before finally arriving in the Windy City last year. Even though Kerr might lose some playing time from Jordan's return, he has been diplomatic and even defended the less-than-usual-Jordanian-performance the Bulls star put on during his return to the game last Saturday against Indiana.

On his baseball road trip to Tucson, Jordan briefly defended his attendance of a Nets-Suns game back then as simple entertainment that he could understand with a different perspective than he did before.

"I evaluated it from a fan's standpoint," Jordan said that night. "I didn't have any urges or nothing like that"

Well, his desire is back and so is Jordan. So what if he scored 19 points in his return and went 7-of-28 from the floor, he still looked like a shell of his former self. He'll look better each time including what will likely be his last visit to Boston Garden tonight.

The next time the tongue comes out and Jordan drives to the lane like only he can, there's no doubt the two former Wildcats will be grinning, knowing they contributed to the fact that fans can watch in awe as Jordan plays a sport at another level.

Eric Wein is a journalism senior and the assistant sports editor of the Arizona Daily Wildcat.

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