The NBA spent the entire 2002-03 season honoring Michael Jordan, as His Airness received a standing ovation at every arena during his fairwell tour. Mariah Carey wore a sleek Wizards 23 dress that perfectly fit her curvaceous body while she sang “Hero” to Jordan at the All-Star game. U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld presented Jordan with the American flag that hung on the grounds of the Pentagon after the September 11 tragedy, before Jordan played his final game last Wednesday. No tribute, however, was as vital as the one delivered by several star players during the opening games of the playoffs last weekend.

When Jordan retired the first two times, many observers around the league openly questioned whether the league had the star power to survive. With Jordan’s return to the NBA hardwood about as likely as Saddam’s return to power in Iraq, a bevy of players made sure that the league is in good hands without Jordan.

Five players took their team upon their back and delivered Jordanesque performances in leading their squads to Game One victories. Paul Pierce opened the playoffs with 21 of his 40 points in the fourth quarter to lead the Celtics to an improbable 16-point comeback victory on the road against the Pacers. The accuracy in which Pierce drained near-impossible, fade-away threes in the face of double-teams was eerily reminiscent to Jordan’s deft shooting display against the Blazers in Game One of the ’92 finals.

The Jail Blazers were burned this time this weekend by the clutch shooting of Dirk Nowitzki. The 6-foot-10 forward from Germany scorched Portland with a 16-27 shooting performance from the field. Along with his 10 rebounds, Nowitzki had 23 points – in each half. His play was critical during a 15-1 Mav’s run in the third that erased the Blazers’ 10-point halftime lead.

Kobe Bryant, the player who is most frequently referred to as being the next Jordan, also had an auspicious start to the playoffs. Bryant, in his quest to lead the Lakers to a fourth straight title, was 12-16 from the floor in the first half en route to a 39-point shooting clinic. The T-wolves sure picked an inopportune time to host the franchise’s first playoff series.

LeBron James was in the house at the Palace at Auburn Hills, as another former high school phenom stole the show. Tracy McGrady’s 43-point display single handily helped the Magic upset the Pistons Easter Sunday. When McGrady dunked over seven-footer Mehmet Okur from the left side of the free-throw line, a bewildered James said “Even I can’t do that.”

Eighth-seed Phoenix, also earned an upset victory thanks to a spectacular trip to the bank by Stephon Marbury. The Suns guard rebounded a Tim Duncan missed foul shot and went full length to bank in a game-winning, one-legged runner at the buzzer. Didn’t we see a similar shot by Drew Nicholas a month ago? Phoenix’s bench responded in March Madness fashion by wildly flocking to Marbury after his shot went in.

However, no performance was as impressive or as awe-inspiring as Allen Iverson’s 55-point showcase against the Hornets Sunday night. Iverson’s third 50-point game in his playoff career was called “His best ever, by far” by coach Larry Brown and reminded Philly fans of the Sixers 2001 run to the NBA Finals. “The basket looked like an ocean out there,” Iverson said. “When I’m out there on the basketball court in front of 20,000 people, and I’m making shots and they’re into it and jumping up and cheering, that’s what I get the goose bumps from. Because I know when these people leave this arena, that might be something they’ll cherish for the rest of their life.”

Two questions arise from the out-of-world performances delivered by several individuals over the weekend. Can any of them make a 40-point night as ordinary as Jordan did and can their magnificence alone lead their teams to the championship? “This guy is arguably the best player on the planet,” Detroit coach Rick Carlisle said of McGrady. “We know he is going to score some points and do some spectacular things. But if he goes for 40-plus in every game, it’s going to be really hard for us.”

The brilliance of a player like McGrady might lead a team like Orlando to a first round upset, but in all likelihood no further. As the wear and tear of a two month playoff grinds along, the deeper teams will prevail. The Sixers barely defeated the fifth-seed Hornets on Sunday even though Iverson was unstoppable. Keith Van Horn, Derrick Coleman and Eric Snow were only 5-25 from the field. The Celtics are a two-player team and were lucky to sneak a game from the Pacers. Look for the Mavericks or the Kings – two teams that go 10 deep and can both have up to five 20-point scorers an evening – to be standing in the end of June unless a third player such as Robert Horry or Derek Fisher emerges from the Lakers’ two-man team.

Rybaltowski can be reached at mrybaltowski@campustines.org.



Notes by Nadia: The myth of summer vacation

Summer vacation is no longer a vacation.

An open letter to all members of any university community

I strongly oppose the proposed divestment resolution. This resolution is nothing more than another ugly manifestation of antisemitism at the University.

Colin’s Review Rundown: Future and Metro Boomin, Lizzy McAlpine, Benson Boone, Civerous

Is it bad? Definitely not! But I found myself continually checking my phone to see how many tracks were left.