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The Patriot Game

By Master Sgt. Phillip Copeland, USAF
Special to American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 15, 2003 – It was a memorable, symbolic night at the MCI Center here April 14 as Michael Jordan played the last home game of his legendary and illustrious basketball career. But it would be more than about a game between two NBA teams.

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Michael Jordan and the Wizards played the New York Knicks on Monday night, April 14, 2003. This was Michael's last home game at the MCI center before his retirement as an NBA player. Left: Michael Jordan is on the basketball court during pregame warmups. Right: Michael Jordan is checking back into the game after a short rest.
  

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Fans sensed excitement even before game time when a thunderous standing ovation vibrated through the whole coliseum. But it was not because "His Airness" had brought his offensive play to the court. Rather, the raucous applause was for appearance of defense - as in Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld at center court, representing American military patriots serving worldwide and sacrificing their lives for freedom.

After minutes of genuine applause, a voice sounded through the noisy decibel level to announce that Rumsfeld would present Michael Jordan with a flag. Again, seizing upon this outpouring of patriotism and gratitude, this wasn't just any flag. It was one flown over the Pentagon Sept. 11, 2002, commemorating the one- year anniversary of the 9-11 terrorist attacks. Jordan received the flag in recognition of his support after the 9-11 terrorist attacks. He donated his 2001 salary, a reported $1 million, to agencies working with the families of the victims in New York, the Pentagon and Pennsylvania.

Rumsfeld, with a grin, pointed to Jordan, who on cue walked onto the court to meet the secretary. The two men gripped in a firm handshake evoking great and mutual admiration. They exchanged words, heard only between them, yet understood by all who watched.

The drama of the night extended further beyond the two men: The two teams took to the court, representing cities victimized by the 9-11 terrorist attacks. Washington and New York reflected the very fabric of a courageous country, symbols of the nation's relentless campaign against global terror and the quests for homeland security.

Players and fans alike savored every moment of the eventful evening. With two minutes left in the game, Jordan exited the court with a standing ovation that would last until game's end, with all eyes focused on the legendary player. After the team's last game of the season April 16, Jordan plans to retire from the NBA for the last time.

He had previously hung up his basketball shoes in 1993 and 1999. He came out of retirement again in 2001 and returned to play with the Washington Wizards, where he was president of basketball operations and part team owner.

Jordan's team, Wizards, would not emerge victorious this night. The New York Knicks would win 93-79.

But the night would be remembered not only for a star NBA player or a score between long-time Eastern Conference rivals. The image would rewind to those minutes before game time - to that American flag, bestowed by a world-known secretary of defense to a world-known ambassador of basketball. Their moment of bonding on the court would reverberate long after the final buzzer sounded.

(Master Sgt. Phillip Copeland is a web designer for the American Forces Press Service.)

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageSecretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld points toward Michael Jordan to join him at center court before an April 14 NBA game at MCI Center in Washington, D.C. Rumsfeld presented Jordan with an American flag flown over the Pentagon on the one-year anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks before the start of the star's last home game. Photo by Master Sgt. Phillip Copeland  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageMichael Jordan hustles down the court in his last home game April 14, wearing the throwback home jersey representing the 1978 team that won the NBA championship. The star NBA won the attendees' hearts, even though his team, the Wizards, lost the game against the New York Knicks, 93-79. Photo by Master Sgt. Phillip Copeland  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageMichael Jordan gestures across court during his final home game April 14 to spectator Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who presented him with an American flag before the game. Jordan said he's retiring for the last time as an NBA player when his team's season ends on April 16. Photo by Master Sgt. Phillip Copeland  
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