Leaping at the Chance

The Sky's No Limit—Yet—For Nets' Jefferson

Before Friday night's game against the Wizards, Jefferson answered questions about another typical assignment: guarding the guy whose poster he had on his bedroom wall in high school.

"You can say you scored 20 on Michael," a reporter suggested.

"He scored 40 on me," laughed Jefferson, remembering how Jordan torched him in his first-ever NBA start. "And if I did score 20, people would say, hey, he was 49 years old, so it doesn't mean anything."

But what a difference a year makes. In an almost supernaturally sloppy game, Jefferson was the only one who could find the hole, grooving his medium-range jumpers and notching a dozen in the first quarter. Jefferson harassed his onetime idol into a why-did-I-come-back-again night, holding him to five for 20 shooting on a night when the Wiz scored a franchise-low 65.

Normally Byron Scott is Mr. Tough Love, but he positively gushed about Jefferson after the game: "You have to give him credit. The young fellow is playing great."

But the real seal of approval came in the opponents' locker room. Never a good loser, the greatest player of all time wasn't a happy camper. Asked if Jefferson was an All-Star, Michael praised him with faint damnation. "It's tough for me to determine that," he grumbled. "I've only seen him twice. That's something the coaches are going to have to decide."

Steve Adamek of the Bergen Record got right to the point: "Richard said if you're 22 and he's 22, you'll kick his ass." His Airness cracked his first and only smile of the evening and said, "That's a good assessment."

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