ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - The purpose of the Seattle SuperSonics' exhibition with the Chicago Bulls last night was simple: Entertain 25,710 fans who normally spend their sports dollar on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The crowd at the new Florida Suncoast Dome, a state record for a basketball game, came to see Michael Jordan, of course.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the finish. The Sonics, the other team in this mega-ballroom dance, outstepped and outmuscled the Bulls 109-103 in an NBA exhibition game.
Jordan didn't disappoint the crowd, scoring 22 points in 35 minutes.
Neither did Seattle. Coach K.C. Jones saw progress in the victory, Seattle's first after two exhibition losses.
``Considerable,'' Jones said. ``Our defense was much better. And although Chicago is a good board team, we did a pretty good job on the boards.''
Chicago outrebounded Seattle 46-40, but the Sonics held their own inside. Shawn Kemp, with six rebounds, led a crowd of Sonic rebounders, and the 20-year-old also scored 10 points, making 5 of 7 attempts, and played stifling defense.
``He still needs work on his offense,'' Jones said of Kemp. ``But I liked what I saw on the other end.''
Kemp said he's playing ``pretty much the same'' as last year when he averaged 6.5 points and just over four rebounds a game.
``I'm just more comfortable,'' Kemp said. ``I'm just as aggressive as last year, but I've learned a little more.''
This year's young wonder, point guard Gary Payton, started his first game for Seattle. Two other guards, Sedale Threatt (23 points) and Dale Ellis (20 points) provided the offense. Payton supplied the future.
``Solid,'' Jones said of the No. 2 overall pick in the NBA draft. ``He's a rock.''
Said Payton, ``I'm getting more comfortable. When it's time for the season to start, I'll be playing the way I want to . . . when I can run the plays I want to run. Right now, I have to listen to Coach.''
Payton attempted only five shots, making one, but he says to expect more.
``I'll start shooting when I get my confidence,'' he said.
After trailing most of the game, Seattle passed the Bulls late in the fourth quarter on Ellis' 10-foot shot and free throw.
Fast forward to 49 seconds left: Payton enters. Ten seconds later, he has the ball and three Bulls, including Jordan, zeroing in on him. Payton dribbles out of the mess and passes to Michael Cage for an easy layup. Sonics win.
It was only an exhibition, but ``when you get down to that part of the game, you really want to win the ballgame,'' Jones said. ``We wanted to look at people early. But in the fourth quarter, we wanted to win.''
-- NOTE: Dave Corzine, the former Orlando center signed by Seattle, still is recovering from knee surgery but was a surprise starter. Corzine played five minutes, left and did not re-enter. ``I wanted to play him against (Bill) Cartwright,'' Jones said. ``I thought that would be a nice matchup. I wanted to give him meaningful minutes. He's still 1 1/2 to two months away (from a full recovery).''