Bulls have no plans to lose despite missing stars
PARIS (AP) _ Even without Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman, the McDonald’s Championship in Paris is no place for the five-time NBA champion Chicago Bulls to lose _ even if it’s just an exhibition game.
The NBA is 14-0 in this event, which is billed by NBA commissioner David Stern the ``international club championship.″
``First and foremost is to stay focused and make sure we are not the first team to lose in the McDonald’s Open,″ said Michael Jordan, wearing a black beret after Wednesday’s practice at Paris’ Bercy Sports Palace.
``When you’re in France, do as the French,″ he quipped. ``Hopefully, jet-lag will not be a problem. Too much tourism and tourist things around the city could be. Nightlife hopefully isn’t.″
Even NBA junkies might draw a blank on the other five clubs in the field, but they’re all national or continental club champions in a world of slowly shrinking U.S. basketball dominance.
In the 1990 McDonald’s in Barcelona, the New York Knicks needed a 3-pointer with eight seconds left to force overtime and beat Italy’s Scavoline Pesaro by four.
Six years ago in Paris, Magic Johnson and the Los Angeles Lakers squeezed by Spain’s Joventut Badalona 116-114.
It could happen this time in an event that dates back to 1987.
The Bulls are 1-2 in the preseason and seem in turmoil with coach Phil Jackson saying he won’t return next year, Rodman out with bronchitis and a case of pneumonia, and Pippen gone for three months after foot surgery.
Security around the Bulls in Paris is heavy, due partly to the death here of Princess Diana almost seven weeks ago.
The promotion-minded NBA has a tight schedule for the Bulls, from photos at the Eiffel Tower to department store appearances at Galeries LaFayette _ forcing quick trips across congested Paris traffic.
Would a loss mean the Bulls were no longer world champions? Jordan bristled at the suggestion.
``No one can take away what we accomplished last year,″ he said. ``No one can take away the five championships that we have attained over the last seven years. People who say that certainly don’t understand the game of basketball.″
``There is a certain expectation for us to come here and play well and win _ even though we are not 100 percent healthy. That is the challenge we face. I think we are capable of doing that, without a doubt.″
The Bulls have a bye in the first round. On Friday they play the winner of today’s game between Paris-St. Germain and FC Barcelona. The title game is Saturday. Also on Thursday, the Italian team Benetton faces Atenas de Cordoba of Argentina, with the winner facing Olympiakos Piraeus of Greece.
Each of the five clubs has a smattering of near, former or promising NBA talent. And the enormous incentive of recording a first.
The Bulls will be watching Barcelona. They hold the NBA rights to Barcelona’s 7-foot-1 Roberto Duenas. Barcelona also starts former NBA player Jerrod Mustaf.
``I think if we go out and play our type of basketball, it doesn’t matter who we play, whether European or American _ doesn’t matter,″ Jordan said.
This is Jordan’s third time playing in Paris. Twice before he was on promotional tours for his sponsors, and the last time was 1990 before he shot to worldwide fame.
He once went unnoticed in a Paris cafe. But not now.
``I used to come every other year when I first got into the league and I used to sit out at some of the restaurants outdoors and not be bothered,″ Jordan said.
``It’s just hard for me to go anywhere now unnoticed.″