It was the moment everyone had been waiting to hear, and when it came, no one could hear it.
Ray Clay, the public-address announcer at the United Center, didn't even get to finish introducing Chicago Bull guard B.J. Armstrong before the way-beyond-a-sellout crowd of 24,247 roared to its crescendo.
Somewhere in there, presumably, was "And now . . . from North Carolina . . . a 6-6 guard . . . "
Michael Jordan wasn't really back until he was back in Chicago, where a screaming, flashbulb-popping crowd packed the building 2,000 people more the usual sellout.
Jordan returned to the NBA in Indianapolis and Boston, but Friday's introduction at home before a 106-99 loss against the Orlando Magic was a far cry from the understated introduction against the Pacers in his first game back.
People came mainly to welcome Jordan back and to say they were there, which was just as well, because Jordan shot an airball on his first attempt, made only seven of 23 shots and finished with 21 points. He missed four of his 11 free throws, some of them off the front of the rim, and added four rebounds and seven assists.
The hoopla will eventually fade, but it was tremendous Friday. Tickets were at a premium, with rafter seats going for $175 and one report of courtside seats being offered for $3,000. The Chicago Sun-Times produced a 44-page special section, and the Chicago Tribune weighed in with a 16-page special section that referred to the game as one of "Biblical proportions."
Jordan was compared not only to God--nothing new there--but also to the Prodigal Son as well as to a 6-foot-6 David facing Goliath in the person of Shaquille O'Neal.
A single story in the Tribune mentioned Gandhi, Einstein, Michelangelo, Mozart, Shakespeare, Agamemnon, Hector and Achilles.
Orlando, which has the NBA's best record, avoided letting the Bull fans celebrate more than they did.
"Everybody is walking around like this is the championship, media on the floor, everybody in here," said O'Neal, who had 24 points and 16 rebounds. "I told the guys, 'Don't get caught up.' Go out and play our game.' "
The Magic trailed with about 5 1/2 minutes left but used a 9-0 run to pull away.
As for Jordan, there were certainly flashes and moments and the trademark flying dunk, but he is still searching for his legs and his rhythm and occasionally for the new teammates whose games he doesn't know. There isn't much question that he will find them all in time.
His third game was more like his first game back--a seven-for-28, 19-point game against the Pacers--than it was like his second, when he made nine of 17 and scored 27 points against the Celtics.
Jordan was disappointed, but allowed that "I'm not too concerned. I know I can play the game of basketball."
"As much as I want to blame someone else, I've got to blame myself and my game," he said when someone offered the excuse that he wasn't playing in old Chicago Stadium as he used to. "Even though the team looks to come to me, I'm not quite ready to take responsibility."
One key statistic was minutes played--44--more than anyone else in the game. Chicago Coach Phil Jackson is trying to get him into game shape.
"Phil played me a lot," Jordan said. "He's hoping to get the other players used to me and he's also trying to get my legs back quickly.
"I'm certainly not playing consistently offensively. The team has not gotten used to playing with me. . . . Right now I know B.J. and Scottie Pippen. Toni (Kukoc) I'm learning. Luc (Longley) I'm learning."
Jordan is sometimes getting caught without a passing option, or shooting out of rhythm.
And as his every game is being minutely analyzed, he cooperates to a point before cutting the conversation short with irrefutable logic.
"I don't know. I don't have anything to compare it to," he said. "I'm back and I'm trying to figure out ways to get my game back."