Philadelphia 107, Washington 87

April 17, 2003 at 12:58 AM
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PHILADELPHIA, April 16 (UPI) -- Michael Jordan's fabulous career came to an end amid cheers and tears Wednesday night as his Washington Wizards were trounced, 107-87, by the Philadelphia 76ers, who clinched home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

Perhaps the greatest player in NBA history, Jordan scored 15 points in the finale to his 15-year career, which included 10 scoring titles, six championships, five MVP awards, two comebacks and a seemingly endless reel of highlights.

"Basketball has been my life," Jordan said. "No way you would ever have come in contact with me without the game of basketball. No way would I have been in contact with a lot of other people without the game of basketball.

"It gave me an outlet. It gave me a chance to experience life all over the world, not just here in the States. It taught me a lot of things about life in terms of respect, hard work, determination, achievement, setting goals, a lot of basic things in life.

"I've used the game as much as the game has used me, as a method of teaching the game and passing on the correct way to play the game. It obviously gave me a lot of opportunities in terms of materialistic things as well as being able to touch people's lives.

"We've been a great relationship. It's been like my best friend, but sometimes you have to grow up and move away from your best friend. It's always going to be there in my mind and nothing is going to erase what I have attained just by having basketball as a friend."

It was a day-long celebration in "The City of Brotherly Love," where the fans who perfected the art of booing showed No. 23 they could cheer long and loud, too.

"This was a great send-off," Sixers Coach Larry Brown said. "I remember my dad talking about Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth and I remember how in love I became with Jackie Robinson I became growing up in Brooklyn. I even walked like him.

"And then my son got to see Michael (tonight) and spend time with him, and he's going to be able to say the same thing I said about Jackie."

"I think the fans here were superb in the way that they treated him and the way they reacted to him," Sixers superstar Allen Iverson added.

Prior to the game, 76ers greats Julius Erving and Moses Malone accompanied Eric Snow in greeting Jordan, who received a hug from Erving and a golf cart from Snow on behalf of the team.

During the pregame introductions, the Sixers turned the microphone over to Ray Clay, the former public address announcer of the Chicago Bulls who launched into his patented growl, "From North Carolina, 6-6, No. 23, Michael Jordan."

As Jordan shook hands with Clay, a two-minute standing ovation ensued. Jordan rocked back and forth, trying not to cry while staring at the sneakers that he turned into a status symbol.

"Now I guess it hits me that I am not going to be in a uniform anymore, and that's not a terrible feeling," Jordan said. "It's not terrible. It's something that I have come to grips with and it's time."

Although he departs with the highest scoring average at 30.2 points, Jordan's finale left the sellout crowd of 21,257 and a national TV audience wanting a bit more. He made six of 15 shots and had just one dunk -- from right underneath the hoop at the end of the first half.

With 4:13 left in the period and the Wizards trailing, 75-56, Jordan went to the bench for rookie Juan Dixon. Despite repeated chants of "We Want Mike," at the First Union Center, it appeared he would not return.

Then with 2:35 left, Jordan re-entered to a roar. Fifty seconds later, Snow gave a foul to put him on the line, and Jordan sank two free throws to countless glimmers of flash bulbs.

The Wizards quickly gave a foul and Jordan exited to an ovation that lasted three minutes and culminated with Washington Coach Doug Collins pushing him onto the floor to give a final wave to the crowd.

"I didn't think I would go back into the game," Jordan said. "They (the fans) wanted to see me make a couple baskets and come off. That was very respectful. I had a good time.

"Obviously, I would have much rather have won the game, but I had a good time."

The atmosphere mirrored that of an All-Star Game and allowed the Sixers to sprint to an easy win. With the Wizards putting up little resistance, Allen Iverson scored 35 points as Philadelphia (48-34) claimed no worse than fourth place in the Eastern Conference.

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