Basketball: Jordan comes up trumps on court: Game's greatest player causes concern despite inspiring NBA hat-trick: Ken Jones reports on the Chicago Bulls legend who loves to take risks even when he is not playing

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The Independent Online
SO EVERYTHING worked out happily for Michael Jordan, who may or may not be the best player in the history of basketball, but certainly would be the first to have wagered dollars 500,000 (pounds 333,000) on a game of golf.

Coming up to game six of the NBA finals against the Phoenix Suns, it was still the big question. Not whether Jordan could take the Chicago Bulls to their third consecutive championship, but does he have a gambling problem?

Ominously for the National Basketball Association, a former golfing partner, Richard Esquinas, cited Jordan as a big money loser in his book Michael and Me: Our gambling addiction . . . My cry for Help] Skilfully eluding this and other specific enquiries about an alleged habit (he was seen in a casino in Atlantic City late on the eve of a play-off game against the New York Knicks), Jordan set about establishing himself as the greatest player in one of the greatest teams basketball has ever known.

It happened. By winning 99-98 in Phoenix, and thus the seven-game championship 4-2, the Bulls became the first NBA team to win three consecutive titles since the Boston Celtics won eight in a row between 1959 and 1966.

That was before basketball could claim to be the world's fastest growing sport, not merely human giraffes cavorting in their underwear, but a multi-billion-dollar industry. If you want to know why football will never work as a spectator sport in the United States, no matter how successful the novelty of next year's World Cup, then think about the scoring system.

Basketball draws its popularity as much from statistical accumulation as phenomenal athleticism. With 38.1 seconds left on Sunday, the Bulls trailed the Suns 98-94. Jordan, the only player to score for them in the final quarter, cut the deficit by two points.

Amid intense excitement the Bulls went for broke. The ball went from Jordan via Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant to John Paxon, a Jordan protege, who calmly scored a three-pointer. The Bulls by 99-98 and not enough time left for the Suns to recover.

Jordan didn't immediately join in the celebrations because he went looking for the ball, eventually grabbing it back from the crowd. He doesn't miss a trick. 'Winning this championship is the hardest thing I've ever done in basketball,' he said to an interrogator. 'With all the ups and downs I've had this season it's a gratifying thing for me.'

But it could be a long, hot summer for Jordan. Interviewed at half-time, the NBA commissioner, David Stern, said that the investigation into Jordan's alleged association with gamblers will continue.

This week an unnamed Chicago player told Sports Illustrated about Jordan's questionable driving and how he nearly banged down the door of Chuck Daly's room when demanding an early-morning golf rematch during the Olympic Games last summer.

What will become of him? Is it time to give up golf? Will the Esquinas case go away? The betting is that it won't.

Post-match 'celebrations' in Chicago resulted in two shooting deaths and 700 arrests on charges including disorderly conduct and vandalism.

(Photograph omitted)

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