BASKETBALL: Jordan loses his magic at the last

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Michael Jordan experienced the rare indignity of a poor performance in the National Basketball Association play-offs at Orlando on Sunday. Jordan performed the unthinkable by missing two crucial free-throws for the Chicago Bulls and committing two turnovers in the final seconds to hand Shaquille O'Neal's Orlando Magic a 94-91 victory. Orlando now lead the best-of-seven series 1-0.

Jordan dribbled the ball upcourt in the dying seconds of the game when Orlando's Nick Anderson stole the ball from behind and knocked it into the waiting hands of his team-mate, Anfernee Hardaway. The Orlando guard instantly passed to Horace Grant for an easy slam-dunk which gave Orlando a 92-91 lead with 6.2sec remaining.

For the final move of the night Chicago naturally looked to Jordan for the match-winning play. He became clear from the free-throw line but rejected the open shot, choosing instead to throw a wayward pass to Scottie Pippen. Pippen, on the left baseline and already moving towards the basket, watched helplessly as the ball bounced off his fingertips and out of bounds giving Orlando possession.

More sporting icon than superstar, Jordan's self-imposed retirement last year shocked America. He returned to the NBA with the simple statement "I'm back," giving himself the perfect opportunity to extend his own legend.

His attempt to lead the ailing Chicago Bulls to another NBA title looks likely to be the sternest challenge of his unique career.

He is battling the best teams in the NBA, unfamiliar team-mates and the pressure of his own reputation.

On Sunday Jordan scored 19 points, but missed 14 of 22 shots from the field and committed eight turnovers. These figures match the worst of his entire career. Moreover, his Chicago Bulls were in a winning position when he squandered possession in the dying seconds of the game.

Jordan built his reputation on his ability to win games. His unwavering nerve and priceless ability to score from any position made him the sports greatest player. In this instance he cost his team a vital victory.

This particular series offers more than the return of Michael Jordan, it also presents a contest between the two giants of the contemporary NBA . . . Jordan the "old master" versus Shaquille O'Neal, the "young pretender". Despite this damaging loss, Jordan has always confounded his critics. His legend demands nothing less than complete success.