At the Buzzer: I hate to love Mike

I hate Michael Jordan.

I’m a Jazz fan (don’t ask why), so that’s understandable. But I hate him for more than just ruining Utah’s championship hopes.

I hate how I desperately refreshed the ticketmaster.com purchase page for half an hour to get a ticket to Jordan’s opening night game at the Garden. I hate how I’d rather watch him shoot 7-for-21 against an Iverson-less Sixers team than watch Game 6 of the greatest World Series ever. I hate how he’s going to inexplicably make the Wizards a playoff team. I especially hate how I watched in amazement, not anger, when he buried that 18-footer along with the Jazz three years ago, making sure my beloved John Stockton and Karl Malone will go down as the greatest players to never win a ring.

Basically, I hate Michael Jordan because I have to love him.

Even the guy sitting next to me last Tuesday out in Section 421 — a Knicks fan who I’m sure watched Jordan oust New York from the playoffs year after year — said under his breath, “Everyone wants him to do well.”

Admit it, you do too.

So in light of that common desire to see No. 23 succeed, I’m going to be charting Jordan’s progress through the season in two ways:

First, I’ll see how he matches up with Stockton.

With all the talk that His Airness at 38 is too old to be good in the NBA, Stockton has trudged into his 18th season as the only 39-year-old starting point guard in the history of the league. Not only was Stockton leading the league in assists after the first week of play, but he has a higher minutes-to-age ratio than Jordan, meaning he gets more out of his years. This may seem like a trivial stat from a Jazz fan who’s trying desperately to hold on to what might be the slightest semblance of one last run at the championship, but it’s not.

Really, it’s not.

Second, I’ll keep a statistical comparison of MJ with our very own Chris Dudley ’87, the only Yalie in the league.

Dudley may have little to show against Jordan after one week on the Blazers’ injury list, but he and his 45.7 career free throw percentage — the worst in NBA history — have undoubtedly helped Portland to its astounding 2-3 record. Bulldogs, arf!

But enough about Michael Jordan and Chris Dudley. Over 400 other players also started their 2001-02 season last week, and Jordan’s career isn’t the only one that’s changed with the new season:

– Memphis Grizzly (Grizzlies in Memphis?) Lorenzen Wright, who in five seasons averaged 8.4 points and 6.8 rebounds per game, dropped 33 points against Dallas along with 26 boards on Sunday, his 26th birthday.

– Steve Smith is now a Spur — and proud of it. Smith went 8-for-8 from behind the arc on Saturday against the team that traded him this summer — Dudley’s Blazers. He tied the NBA record held by Sam Perkins and Jeff Hornaceck. Pull an MJ, Horny; the Jazz need you.

– Penny Hardaway is putting up 22 points in 36 minutes per game. Maybe now that the real Penny is back, they’ll bring back Li’l Penny too.

– The New Jersey Nets stand atop the Atlantic division, ahead of defending Eastern Conference champs Philadelphia. Don’t expect it to last. Nothing lasts in New Jersey. Not a winning record and especially not healthy bodies. That’s why Stephon Marbury bolted; he got sick of breaking his own ankles. And of Keith Van Horn breaking his leg. And of Kenyon Martin breaking his leg. And of Jayson Williams retiring– because of breaking his leg too many times.

Like the Nets’ broken bones, there are some things in the NBA that remain the same, year after year:

– Lamar Odom, the L.A. Clipper who got in trouble last season for violating the NBA’s anti-drug policy, violated the NBA’s anti-drug policy again Monday. He’s now serving a five-game suspension.

– Did I mention that John Stockton leads the league in assists?

– Lorenzen Wright may be on the verge of a breakout season, but his Grizzlies aren’t. They lost that game against the Mavs. Wait, they’ve lost every game so far. Vancouver, Memphis, wherever they call home, they’re still the Grizz. It wasn’t the Canadian taxes after all.

– The Lakers are unbeaten. They’re 27-1 dating back to last season. Good news, Lakers’ fans and Yalies alike: Shaq is making two of three from the line, so Dudley’s place in the record books looks pretty secure.

Don’t be na•ve. There can never be enough Jordan. He hasn’t changed completely. Go to NBA.com and download the up-and-under, reverse lay-up he blew up Atlanta with for two of the 31 points he scored in his second game back.

You have to love him.

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