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Sloan is favorite topic of Chicago media

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Jerry Sloan's return has become a favorite topic of discussion with the local media.

The former Bulls star, whose No. 4 jersey hangs in retirement at both the United Center and the team's training facility in suburban Deerfield, is still thought highly of in and out of the organization. Even 21 years after his playing ended.After noting that Sloan always played hard, Chicago coach Phil Jackson went on to express happiness for his coaching colleague.

"To be at the finals for the first time," he said. "Is a big thrill."

Upon arriving in town Saturday night, Sloan was swarmed by local media types.

"I had a great time in Chicago. It's a great place to play basketball," he said. "It's nice to come back where I played, but the most important thing is that (the Jazz) are still playing."

Wearing a Heritage Tractor Cp. baseball hat on his head and cowboy boots on his feet, Sloan went on to note he thinks forward, not backward.

"Fun is going out and winning," he said. "No matter where you are."

THE GREATEST: Boxing legend Muhammad Ali will present the game ball at Game 1 this evening. No word if the pass will "float like a butterfly" or "sting like a bee."

ENOUGH ALREADY: Bulls guard Steve Kerr, perhaps weary of hearing the question, tried to put an end to talk of Michael Jordan avenging his MVP loss to Karl Malone on the court during the finals.

"Michael does not need any extra motivation," said Kerr. "He's going for his fifth title."

Perhaps more than coincidentally, Jordan has been named series MVP all four times the Bulls have reached and won the NBA finals.

BEWARE OF DA HAIR: The ever-changing color of Dennis Rodman's mane is currently blonde with red streaks. Chances are, however, it has already changed twice since Saturday's practice.

PLAYOFF POOL: It pays to follow a good regular season with a trip to the NBA finals. By virtue of having the best record in the league this season, Chicago is guaranteed a playoff pool of $2,045,750 if it wins the title and $1,639,750 as runner-up. The Jazz will divide $1,821,750 should they triumph and $1,415,750 with a second-place finish.

IN MEMORY: Press passes to Game 1 are adorned with a photo of Detroit Free Press NBA writer Corky Meinecke who died earlier this season of cancer. The Pistons paid tribute to the beat writer by wearing black patches on their uniforms.

FINAL-LY: NBA commissioner David Stern will present the 1996-97 NBA Sportsmanship Award Monday morning at the United Center . . . The Finals will be broadcast to 176 different countries . . . The winner of the series will represent the NBA in this year's McDonald's Championship tournament, Oct. 16-18, in France. Teams from Greece, France and Argentina round out the field.