There is an increasingly large segment of NBA faithful who would just as soon see the Utah Jazz knock off Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls and end the run of one of the more dominating franchises in league history (despite some media picks who thought the Bulls would be too tired to beat the Jazz, it appears the opposite is true) Fans may have tired a little of the Bulls' act, particularly during the Eastern Conference series with Indiana when each team took more time whining about officiating than they did practicing making free throws.

However, be warned. An unlikely Utah victory over the Bulls would likely guarantee a return of his "airness" for at least one more season.

The Jordan retirement soap opera saga has been one of the more annoying sidelights of what has generally been an interesting NBA playoff season. The media has fueled the speculation as they try to read subtle meaning into every move Jordan, owner Jerry Reinsdorf, general manager Jerry Krause and Coach Phil Jackson have made over the past year. With a season as long as the NBA, people have to talk about something during off days, including the playoffs, and Jordan's potential retirement is at the top of the list.

You would think Jordan would be tired of all of the speculation but frankly, he enjoys it. He believes it takes pressure off his teammates and the antics of Dennis Rodman, which normally would be getting front page treatment. It also keeps Jordan's name constantly in the news that brings smiles to the plethora of products which he endorses and in which he receives the lion's share of his earnings.

Collectors want to know what Jordan has planned. If he does retire -- it would cause a run on Jordan & Bulls merchandise, swelling the potential worth of the myriad of Jordan paraphenelia that exists on the market. If he does stay, the price on the glut of Jordan stuff remains constant, at least until the retirement question resurfaces next fall.

Despite Jordan and the Bulls' dominance, the NBA wants Jordan to stick around as long as possible even if it means a delay in parity to a top-heavy league. With Jordan, they have a guaranteed sellout when he goes on the road, despite whether the Bulls lose a Scottie Pippen to Phoenix or Phil Jackson to his mountain hideaway in Montana. With Jordan, they have a marketing tool to stimulate sales of all NBA collectibles that have a No. 23 on it. With Jordan, they have a top attraction to draw television viewers and sponsors to NBA telecasts.

Without Jordan, they lose the top drawing road franchise in the league in the Bulls. Without Jordan, they lose their top role model and spokesperson at a time when the league's potential new superstars are fending off negative publicity from on and off-the-court antics. Without Jordan, they have to try to convince NBC and Turner Broadcasting that a game between the Clippers and Kings is actually worth watching.

Jordan has stated publicly that despite what happens in the Utah series, he isn't coming back if Jackson doesn't coach the team. Jackson's agent said there is no way his client will return to work with Krause and Reinsdorf. Jordan also has indicated he doesn't want to play on club that is rebuilding, something that is a distinct possibility if Pippen follows through on his promise to bolt the Bulls. Rodman wants to play in Los Angeles next year -- if they will have them -- and the Bulls aren't likely to be a force with Toni Kukoc, Luc Longley and Ron Harper leading the charge.

Jordan has manipulated the media in the past and he's doing it again -- remember, he retired four years ago but came back. He won't go out a loser -- at least this year -- meaning even if Jackson and Pippen leave -- he will return to a $35 million paycheck and at least one more year. Jackson also has changed his mind in the past and certainly could be convinced to put aside his differences with management and return for one more year. Even Pippen, who earlier this year vowed he wouldn't play for Chicago again this season, could be enticed to sign on for more years so the Bulls could make a run for a seventh championship. Heck, even Rodman could make Hollywood wait one more year if he knows Messrs. Jordan, Pippen and Jackson are returning.

The wild card factor could be something in which Jordan has no control: labor negotiations. There is increasing talk that the lack of a collective bargaining agreement between the owners and the NBA Players Association will lead to a work stoppage of some sort later in the year, most likely a lockout. Jordan doesn't want anything to do with that (the baseball strike four years ago had a slight part of the reason he abandoned his ill-fated attempt to play Major League baseball). If he sees no hope for labor peace, it could be a deciding factor to convince him to hang it up.

The guess is here, however, that win or lose against Utah, Sir Michael will return for at least one more year. He wants the farewell tour and by announcing it before the start of the 98-99 season, he will be feted in every arena he plays in for the final time. Full-time golf can wait a year.