'Time to move on'

"It's time to move on,'' Jordan said. "It's easier to accept that because physically I know it and feel it.''

Michael Jordan sat on the bench in the fourth quarter, smiling and joking with teammates as the sellout crowd chanted, "We want Mike! We want Mike!''

Michael Jordan waves to the crowd after playing his last match. — Pic. REUTERS-

Though he didn't want to go back in, Jordan wouldn't disappoint the fans in the final game of his NBA career.

Jordan pulled off his warmups, received yet another lengthy ovation, went back on the court, and was purposely fouled by Eric Snow. Fittingly, Jordan made his final two shots — both free throws.

One of the greatest players in NBA history, Jordan then exited for good with 1:44 remaining in the fourth quarter of Washington's 107-87 loss to Philadelphia.

Another standing ovation followed, this one including the coaches and other players. Jordan flashed his familiar wide smile, waved to the crowd and took a seat on the bench one last time.

"It's time to move on,'' Jordan said. "It's easier to accept that because physically I know it and feel it.''

Jordan finished with 15 points, four rebounds and four assists in 28 minutes — drawing several adoring ovations from a Philly crowd notorious for its boorish behaviour.

The fans did boo, but only when they thought Jordan wasn't coming back into the game. He went to the bench with 4:13 remaining in third quarter, and didn't return until 2:35 remained in the game.

With the Sixers ahead by 21 points in the final minutes, the chants of "We want Mike!'' started. The chant grew louder as the period progressed with Jordan remaining seated, and fans ignored the game to stand and stare at the Wizards' bench, wondering why Jordan wasn't playing.

"The game didn't merit me going back in,'' Jordan said. "Obviously, they wanted to see me make a couple of baskets. That was very, very respectful.''

While the fans implored Jordan to return, Wizards coach Doug Collins pleaded with him.

"He really didn't want to, but I said, 'Michael, please, you got to go out there,''' Collins said.

Jordan's final points almost looked scripted, with Snow fouling him in the backcourt for no apparent reason except to send him to the line.

"Coach (Larry Brown) told me to foul him, get him to the line to get some points and get him out of there,'' Snow said.

After both foul shots went in, the Wizards committed a foul a second later so that Jordan could be removed from the game and receive the proper send-off. In a rare scene, the players on the court turned to Jordan and applauded, too.

The 40-year-old Jordan would have preferred to end his career in the playoffs, but the Wizards never clicked during his two years in Washington and finished 37-45 in both seasons.

But that was merely a footnote on a stirring night in which the basketball public watched one of the greatest athletes in history playing the game one final time.

Jordan finished his career with 32,292 points — the third-highest total in league history, behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Karl Malone. Jordan's career average of 30.12 goes down as the best in NBA history, just ahead of Wilt Chamberlain's 30.07.

"I never, never took the game for granted. I was very true to the game, and the game was very true to me. It was just that simple,'' Jordan said. Earlier in the game, Jordan showed his age.

"I'm not embarrassed,'' Jordan said, "but it's just not ... I've had better feelings in terms of playing a competitive game.''

Many people in the crowd wore Jordan replica jerseys, including one small boy in an oversized black Bulls jersey who wasn't looking when Jordan, about to inbound the ball, tussled his hair as the boy walked along the sideline. When the child turned around, he was stunned.