Basketball: Jordan seals series again

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THE QUESTION hung in the air yesterday, like the last shot from Michael Jordan which won the Chicago Bulls their sixth NBA championship. Is this the end for Jordan, and for the greatest basketball team ever?

The Bulls fought their way through every second of the game against the Utah Jazz, and with less than 20 seconds left, the Jazz were ahead. Jordan swatted the ball from Karl Malone and dribbled it up the court. He shot from 17 feet away and scored, leaving only 5.2sec for the Jazz to come back, which they were unable to do.

The Bulls won 87-86, giving them their sixth championship, and a second run of three consecutive victories. Jordan was (of course) voted Most Valuable Player, again; and yet that jump shot may be his last.

Jordan has indicated that he might retire at the end of this season. Scottie Pippen, his team-mate and key ally and Phil Jackson, the coach who has brought the Bulls together into an unstoppable force of nature, have both said that they want to get away from the team's management, chairman Jerry Reinsdorf and General manager Jerry Krause. "I'm afraid the bridges are burned beyond repair," Jordan said in a recent interview.

Watching Jordan score in the last seconds of the game gave it an added piquancy. But Jordan is more than a man and a basketball player; he is a legend and a one-man economy, generating up to $10 billion a year, according to Fortune magazine. He has dominated the sport as few other individuals have ever done in any field of activity.

The Jazz were the toughest opponents imaginable. They had time to rest up before their six-game confrontation, and their home crowd threatened to blow the Bulls off the court. They managed to come back from three games to one down with a victory on the Bull's own turf, and Sunday night's game was never certain until the end.

Jordan has retired once before, in 1993, after his father was murdered. He left to take up a career with Reinsdorf's Chicago White Sox, but baseball was not his game. He returned to the Bulls. But nobody is betting on what he, Jackson or Pippen will do this time. If they stop, then they quit at the top, and for a 35-year-old, there is plenty of life ahead, and plenty of cash. For the Bulls, and for basketball, the future is less certain.