If this was goodbye for the Bulls, it was a sweet one.
"I do know that my heart, my soul and my love has always gone to the city of Chicago," Michael Jordan told the tens of thousands of people gathered in Grant Park today to celebrate the team's sixth NBA championship.
"And no matter what happens, my heart and my soul and my love will always be in the city of Chicago."
Many of the bulls referred to the season as the team's last together, reflecting the uncertainty about which players will be back next season.
"This was our last dance and it was a wonderful waltz," said coach Phil Jackson, long reported to be ready to take a year off.
The other key to the Bulls' success, Scottie Pippen, also sounded a note of farewell.
"It's been a great run. Thank you for our last dance," he said.
The raucous fans who filled the park carried banners begging their heroes to return for another season.
"This is really for the fans who can't afford the $300 courtside tickets and get to see the players," said Jim Perez of Elmhurst. "Look at the crowd. It's all kids. This is the people's rally."
Perez arrived at about 3:30 a.m., long before Jordan, Pippen, Dennis Rodman and the rest of the championship team. Perez joined about 1,000 other fans who already claimed the coveted seats in the bandshell.
Latecomers sat on the lawn, where police estimated 25,000 people had arrived by 9 a.m. Most of them wore T-shirts commemorating the Bulls' six championships or carried signs hailing their heroes.
Boos usually are reserved for Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf and general manager Jerry Krause, whom most fans blame for a breakup that's been in the making for three years. But neither Reinsdorf nor Krause was introduced.
In fact, they stayed out of the crowd's sight for the half-hour rally. If Jackson hadn't acknowledged the two, no one would have even known they were there.
"About a year ago this last month, Jerry Reinsdorf called me and asked me did I think we could do it again. I said yes. ... I thank him for that opportunity. Thank you, Jerry. And I want to thank Jerry Krause for giving us the opportunity to do it," Jackson said, prompting a loud chorus of boos from the crowd and laughter from Jordan and Pippen.
His Airness and his sidekick found plenty more to giggle at, too. There was Bill Wennington and his video camera, which he had in tow throughout the NBA Finals. There was Steve Kerr, who replayed Jordan's game-winning shot -- and his pass that set it up.
And then there was Rodman.
"I've always said I'm never, ever getting married again. I'll never have another wife," he said, ginning and then pausing as if the NBA's bad boy was about to make some big announcement. Or say something provocative.
"If I had to marry anybody, it'd be these 12 guys right here!"
Despite all the talk about this being it for the Bulls, most fans were optimistic. "Six was just for kicks, 'cuz ... seven is going to be heaven!" one sign read.
"This dynasty isn't over, there's still one dance left," said Gina Philip of Skokie, who was carrying a sign that had a picture of Jordan and the words "Seventh Heaven."
"The Jerrys better let them come back," she said. "Otherwise they're going to have a whole city mad at them."
But some fans weren't taking any chances. Bunnie Johnson of Chicago said he thinks all of the Bulls will be back, but just in case, he skipped work to bring his son, James, 7, and daughter, Jasmine, 6, to the rally.
"I just wanted them to see Michael in what might be his final hurrah," he said. "So my kids can know that they've been part of something big."
Police said the crowd was orderly.
But Sunday, in the first three hours after the game ended, Chicago's 911 dispatchers handled 4,368 calls, up from 3,206 last year. Still, celebration-related arrests fell from 582 last year to 441, and reports of serious incidents dropped from 144 to 77.
The celebration stood in sharp contrast to the mayhem that followed the Bulls' early championships. In 1991, more than 1,000 people were arrested, and looters hit stores across the city after the Bulls won their first championship.
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