As he fixed his eyes on the rim

By Ken Berger Associated Press Published:

As he fixed his eyes on the rim and his future, a question became embedded in time: Would he do it again? Of course.

Was it the last time? Nobody knows.

"My answer is that there are still a lot of unanswered questions," said Jordan, who scored 45 points, including a pullup jumper with 5.2 seconds left that gave the Chicago Bulls their sixth NBA championship with an 87-86 victory over the Utah Jazz in Game 6 Sunday night.

"It's a lot of sympathetic feelings about this team and where we want it to go."

Jordan, an American original, stood at halfcourt wagging six fingers for the number of championships he has nearly single-handedly won for the Bulls. A unanimous choice for his sixth Finals MVP trophy, he walked off with that, too.

If he walks away for good, this game would be the ultimate stamp on an incomparable career. With a jump-stop and flick of the wrist he seemed to want to hold onto forever, Jordan added another incredible moment to a highlight film that future generations will have trouble believing.

Jordan will be a free agent this summer and has spoken of retiring. Coach Phil Jackson has insisted that he doesn't expect to be back, and Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman and six others will be free agents.

"Unless something absolutely unusual comes out of left field," Jackson said, "I don't expect us to be back here."

This was up there with all the incredible moments in Jordan's career _ the shot that won the 1982 NCAA championship for North Carolina, the 63-point game against Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics, the career-high 69 points against Cleveland and all those heart-stopping performances at Madison Square Garden.

"This was the best performance I've seen by Michael Jordan in a critical situation in a critical series," Jackson said.

With Chicago trailing 86-83 inside 20 seconds, Jordan sneaked up behind Karl Malone, swatted the ball away and dribbled upcourt. He pulled up 19 feet away, nearly faked Bryon Russell out of his sneakers and let fly from 17 feet with 5.2 seconds left.

"The moment started to come, and once you get the moment, you see the court and you see what the defense wants to do. I saw that moment," Jordan said.

"I let the time tick to where I felt I had it where I wanted it. I stopped, pulled up and had an easy jump shot."

The shot sent a reverberating shock through the stunned Delta Center, as formidable an opponent as the Jazz in these Finals. It left future Hall of Famers Malone and John Stockton still without a championship after all these years of grit and artistry.

And the worst part is, Stockton doesn't believe any of this business about the impending breakup of the Bulls.

"It won't be last one," said Stockton, whose clutch 3-pointer with 41.9 seconds left was obliterated by Jordan. "It's been a nice story for everyone here. But he'll be back, and Scottie will be back and Phil Jackson will be back. I'm tired of hearing all that."

Some feared the Bulls' dysfunctional dynasty would cease to function at the Delta Center; that noise in the arena and the shadow cast by the Wasatch Mountains symbolized a bitter end to a remarkable era.

But they forgot who was still running this show _ distracted, injured and low-on-fuel as it was. It was unmistakably Jordan, and he was perfectly marvelous for perhaps the last time.

"That guy was ridiculous," said Steve Kerr, who clinched the title last year with a winning shot in Game 6 while Jordan was double-teamed. "He's so good, it's ridiculous."

He made 15 shots, including three 3-pointers, and had his highest scoring game in the finals since scoring 55 against Phoenix in 1993.

What made this championship even more special was the way Jordan had to work in the clinching game. With Scottie Pippen severely hobbled by a sore back, Jordan pumped up 35 field-goal attempts and 15 free throws.

"Michael's probably got another five years left in his career before you even see a decline in him," said Pippen.

The Jazz pushed closer and closer to a seventh game behind Malone, who was dominant again with 31 points. The Mailman got an offensive rebound and hit a jumper that gave Utah a 79-77 lead with 4:16 left.

Ron Harper hit a tying jumper that appeared to come after the 24-second clock had expired. It will taste sour to the Jazz all summer because they had Howard Eisley's 3-pointer waved off in the first quarter. It clearly should have counted.

"You have to play through those things," Stockton said.

After Jordan tied it at 83 with four free throws, Stockton made the shot that everyone would be talking about today if not for what happened next. Yes, Jordan had one more stroke of genius left in him.

Was this it?

"Hopefully, I've done enough so that everybody can have some thoughts about what Michael Jordan did in 13 years," Jordan said. "I have another life, and I have to get to it at some point in time."

It could never top this one.

Could it?

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