UNCASVILLE, Conn., Oct. 26 (AP)
-- Playing against Michael Jordan
all summer did wonders for Antoine Walker
. Now if only some of Jordan's skills would rub off on his teammates.
Michael Jordan had tongues wagging in his final preseason appearance Oct. 26. Boston's Joe Johnson gets a look at His Airness.
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE Photos
Jordan scored 21 points in his last preseason tuneup, but Walker had 32 to lead the Boston Celtics to a 107-93 victory over Washington on Friday night. The Wizards finished the exhibition season 2-6 under new coach Doug Collins despite an average of 22.3 points from Jordan.
"Doug's disappointed, and I'm disappointed too because I thought we could have a better preseason," Jordan said. "The best part about it is you wipe it out come Sunday and get back in the right frame of mind."
Jordan helped christen the 10,000-seat arena at the Mohegan Sun Casino, where he has not one, but two restaurants that bear his name.
The Celtics issued 180 press credentials for the game, 100 more than usual; rarely do crews from France and the BBC hop the pond to cover NBA exhibitions. Gov. John Rowland sat courtside, along with UConn basketball coach Jim Calhoun.
"He's the greatest athlete in the world and this is everybody's first chance to see him," said Walker, who played in daily pickup games with Jordan in Chicago this summer. "He's going to bring excitement back to the game. That's good for all sides."
In all, Jordan was 9-for-21 from the floor with five rebounds, two steals and an assist. He also turned the ball over three times in 30 minutes.
"I think my legs are starting to come back for my jump shot... My shooting is still a little off. My wind is coming," Jordan said after playing his fourth game in five nights. "I don't have as many aches as I thought I would. I need a day off, obviously. Everybody does."
UConn product Richard Hamilton, now a guard for the Wizards, got a big cheer at his introduction, but just the anticipation of Jordan's name being called brought the crowd to its feet. Early on, his every touch was celebrated; when he missed a short fadeaway jumper on Washington's first shot, the groan matched anything heard at the card tables outside.
"I know my fans expect me to score 50 points every time I step on the court," he said. "That's not my motivation right now."
As he has throughout the preseason, the 38-year-old Jordan showed signs of his old self and signs that he has slowed. But he also showed that he is enjoying himself, cracking his famous grin after knocking Paul Pierce to the floor with a drive to the basket before pulling up for a jumper.
"It's fun to go out and play against him," said Pierce, who came into the league the year after Jordan retired. "Jordan at this age is better than about 90 percent of the players in the league."
Boston scored the first 14 points of the game and held Jordan scoreless until he grabbed a steal and headed down the court midway through the first quarter. The crowd anticipated a spectacular dunk, but Jordan opted for the layup to make it 14-8 with 7:13 to go in the quarter.
The Wizards cut it to 21-19 when Jordan converted a 3-point play followed by two baskets, and they were tied at 41 late in the second quarter. But Boston scored 10 of the last 12 points in the half and it was never close again.
Walker had 22 points in the first half, hitting 4-of-5 from 3-point range.
With Jordan on the marquee, the game was sold out, and hotels and restaurants in the area were also full on Friday night. The 180-seat Michael Jordan's Steakhouse, a darkly lit and pricey restaurant just off the casino floor, was fully booked before the game and closed afterward for a private party at which the owner was anticipated.
Next door at the Jordan 23 Sportcafe -- so new they hadn't yet had time to hang the boss' memorabilia on the walls -- the line snaked out the door as those inside ate their "Courtside Calamari" and sipped away at drinks like "The Comeback."
Both restaurants had planned their grand openings before Jordan confirmed his return.
"The fact that he's coming back was a great coincidence," said Peter Klein, the marketing director for the restaurant management company. "The fact that he's playing his last preseason game here was a great, great coincidence."