Horse Sense

That, of course, is the other major mystery facing the team. Following the dismissal of Bill Hanzlik and his assistants (T.R. Dunn and Brian Winters) on April 20, Issel has been contemplating choices to be the Nuggets' eighth head coach of the 1990s. One of the names that keeps popping up is the Nuggets' third head coach of the Nineties--Dan Issel. Again, you don't get much from the Horse's mouth, except that he sees himself as a dark horse.

"We've got a list of candidates, a wish list," he said. "But it's not a very long list. I would definitely be a long shot to coach this team. This [general manager] is the job I want. I got the job I want. When I came back to this organization in 1988, ten years ago, the game plan was that I'd be the next GM, and I think it is a full-time job. But if I can't find anybody I think can do better, then I might do it for a year or two. Hopefully, I won't have to make that decision."

Rumor has it that Bulls coach Phil Jackson could end the mystery in a hurry. Jordan and company have just won their sixth NBA title in eight years, but the party's over in Chicago, and Jackson remains a possibility here. Less so Seattle's George Karl, whom Issel declined to call with serious talk when the Sonics' season ended.

Draft choices. Free agents. A new coach. A major housecleaning that could turn the nameplates on the practice gym lockers at DU--LAUDERDALE, GARRETT, FORTSON, NEWMAN--into so many gravestones. Where will it end?

"If you're talking about a contender for an NBA championship," Issel said, "obviously that's going to take a long time. The teams in the fight at the end this year were all veteran clubs that have kept their players together for a long time. But if you're talking about being competitive enough to win every game when we take the floor in McNichols--or have a chance to win every game--to make the playoffs, I'd be disappointed if that didn't happen in two or three years."

And the looming player lockout? What would it do to the best-laid plans of the worst team in the NBA if players and owners fail to reach a labor agreement by the end of June--a prospect that looks increasingly likely?

The man who scored 16,589 Nuggets points can only shake his head slowly at that. "That's something I don't have any control over," he said. "I don't have time to think about it. There are enough things that I do have control over to keep me busy, to keep me worrying."

Like the faint rim of light high above a deep, deep, deep hole.

Perfect, wasn't it?
The finest player ever to lace up a pair of Nikes puts an exquisite finishing touch on the NBA final--and perhaps on his incredible career. Perfect: The back-door steal from baffled Karl Malone with twenty seconds left to play. Perfect: The seventeen-foot fallaway jumper with five seconds remaining to give his club a one-point win. Perfect: Fifteen of 35 from the field and twelve of fifteen from the free-throw stripe, amounting to a 45-point performance when it counted most. Perfect: Another transcendent night from the greatest player in the game when his team needed him most, when Scottie Pippen could barely rise from the bench, so bad was the pain.

Some of the T-shirts read: "2 X 3"--a twin tribute to the "double threepeat" the Chicago Bulls have just accomplished with their sixth NBA title in eight years and to the "23" on the front of Michael Jordan's jersey. Other T-shirts read: "Sixth Sense," which is exactly what Jordan showed in quantities Sunday night in Salt Lake City.

Shall we ever see another like him? Probably not, and that made his last-minute heroics all the more memorable. Instead of cruising into the land of the gods at age 35, he once more played protagonist in the drama. Watching Jordan blaze his way through the twilight, it almost made you sorry the NBA had nixed another playoff finals T-shirt design, the one that read: "Real Men Do It Six Times.

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