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23 verses of blues 

It was that likable Bob Dylan wanna-be that sang it. "The waiting is the hardest part," he said. It's a Thursday afternoon in Chapel Hill and the town is holding its collective breath. Michael Jordan--the pope of the hardwood, the roundball messiah--is coming to lay his official blessing on his Franklin Street restaurant that opened last fall. I arrive expecting to smell the divine pistachio-encrusted salmon; I leave smelling only disappointment.

I'm in the blue room in the back of Michael Jordan's 23, hanging out with lucky contest winners as they await their prize--a face-to-face meeting with the man himself. The mood is one of nervous anticipation. An organizer announces that Jordan's on his way from the hotel.

We've already had a Jordan sighting today. My source bumped into him (and his pals Dean and Buzz) earlier at Finley Golf Course. How fortuitous that my source happened to be carrying a silver pen and a 1983 Sports Illustrated with Michael on the cover.

Back in the blue room, Ryan Hampton, 6, of Durham, gives me a scoop, telling me Jordan's a great basketball player. Does Ryan think he'll ever be as good as Mike? "Yes, better." Alexander Irwin, 7, also of Durham, confides that he likes Mike "because he likes kids and I'm a kid." Al's little brother Christopher concedes that Jordan may be taller than him. And how tall is Christopher? "44 pounds," he states confidently.

Faces fall as David Zadicoff, CEO of Jordan's restaurant holdings, implores people not to ask for autographs. You know, because of E-Bay or something. By the time the Dr. Evil look-alike is done speaking, the information has been ignored and/or forgotten. The room returns to its previous noise level, then swiftly goes silent. A 6-foot-6 guy with a handsome smile and a slick brown suit appears in the doorway. He looks a little nervous, too, and he says nothing.

Dr. Evil announces that there will be a photo-op in the main dining room and everyone follows him out. After a group photo, Jordan signs a couple of autographs--told you--then he's shuttled outside, melting a 23 hostess with a smile on his way to the front door. The contest winners are given goodie-bags and politely kicked out a side door.

The first spectator arrived at 11 a.m. It's now 5:45 p.m., and the sidewalks are teeming. A woman holds a sign that reads, "MJ IS THE MAN." Her hands shake nervously. Jordan makes a brief remark to the crowd and goes up in a cherry-picker to endorse the restaurant's sign. Then he steps down, waves and disappears into the restaurant.

The invite-only cocktail party has begun now, and more than 100 people remain outside. As the lord of the layup--the deacon of dunk--tends bar and laughs it up with his self-conscious guests, the faithful press their noses against the restaurant's large windows or hoist their kids so they can get a look. They look like they're shopping for goldfish at a pet store. But the fish, uh, Jordan, must not mind because he declines to close the curtains.

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