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Jordan is Measuring Stick For All Athletes

NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

You wonder what Tiger Woods thought watching Michael Jordan these last two nights of the NBA Finals. You wonder if somehow these two athletes, so different in age, from such different sports, have intersected somehow on this one weekend in June, with Jordan winning a fifth NBA title in seven years, with Woods going for his own national championship, trying to win the second leg of golf’s Grand Slam.

You wonder if Woods understands, even at 21, how flattering comparisons to Jordan are, and will always be.

You wonder if Woods will be the greatest final round of golf the way Jordan has been the greatest last minute in the history of sports.

This was not just the best final Michael Jordan ever had. It was the best final anyone ever had, Bill Russell or Magic Johnson or Larry Bird or anyone. More than anything that has happened in the 1990s, this was Jordan’s monument, from the jump shot at the end of Game 1 to the way he performed as ill as he was in Game 5 to the pass to Steve Kerr on Friday night.

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That is why you ask this question, even as the comparison between Jordan and Woods is made constantly, and prominently here today:

Even if Woods wins everything for the next 10 years, if he makes more money from golf and endorsements than Jordan has made from basketball and endorsements, will be still burn to win the way Jordan does?

Will it be as important to stand on top of the press table as he did on Friday night, and the top of the world?

Jordan is not just the standard against which Woods must be measured over time, he is the standard against which all modern athletes will be measured from now on. In the age of ridiculous money in sports, Jordan shows, again and again, that he would pay us to let him play for the title. That is the real measure of the man.

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This is the way we want all the rich young athletes, from Tiger Woods on down, to keep score, with championship trophies. This is the way we want them to care.

You can talk about all the weaknesses on the Bulls. It is the best team you will see, a combination of brilliant talent and spare parts. Jordan and Scottie Pippen make up the most versatile and effective 1-2 punch in history. You can make a case for Russell’s Celtics against them, the Lakers of Magic and Kareem, Bird’s Celtics, even the old Knicks. The beauty of sports is always debates about things like this.

But in the last minute, who beats Michael Jordan?

No one does.

Best player ever, best team ever.

I once asked Red Auerbach to draft one player, in his prime, to start a team. Would it be Russell or Jordan? I said.

There was a brief pause and then the old man said, “Jordan.”

Another pause.

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“You gotta be realistic,” Red Auerbach said.

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Interleague baseball between the Yankees and Mets should be remembered this week for the romance of it all, like some scene out of the past, New York vs. New York in games that count the way it used to be when the Dodgers would play the Giants, when the Yankees would play one of them in the World Series.

It should not be remembered for drunks and fights in the stands, as a shame of the city.

Let the big ballpark be just that for three baseball nights starting Monday, not some scene out of “Animal House.”

Let this be a Game Six of the Series.

Don’t let these games belong to bums.

It’s all right for Mets fans to show up at Yankee Stadium for these games, and be allowed to cheer for their underdog team.

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It’s all right for them to wear a Mets cap or jersey or jacket without feeling as if they have put themselves at risk.

Yankee Stadium at its best, and we saw it at its best last October, can still be a masterpiece of the way we want baseball to look and sound and feel.

There is always so much more good inside than bad for the big occasions.

But the ones who like to throw things at the other team, spit on the other team, pick fights, are always there, looking to take over, somehow thinking they are the show, they are the attraction.

They’re not.

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Okay, Willis limping out, still No. 1.

Michael staggering around, though, is a pretty darn close No. 2.

Sometimes I worry that the marriage between Steinbrenner and Doc Gooden can’t be saved.

Is the race still over in the American League East?

Every time Joe Torre has to walk out and get the ball from Kenny (Mister) Rogers, he looks as if he’s being marched to the chair.

Law and Order Stern gave him the $50,000 fine instead of suspending him for a game because he didn’t want to lump Rodman in with a known basketball criminal like, you know, Patrick Ewing.


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