Boss Jordan already laying down the law

January 20, 2000|By Ken Rosenthal

WASHINGTON -- Wizards players, coaches and agents, start running for cover. The Babe Ruth of basketball is now a ruthless executive.

Michael Jordan loved being in control as a player, and judging from his willingness to flex his new management muscles, he might love it even more as an owner.

His Bossness, now the Wizards' president of basketball operations, talked yesterday about getting better productivity from employees who feared that their necks might "get chopped off."

He twice mentioned the high salaries of players, refused to endorse Wizards coach Gar Heard and attempted to dismiss speculation that his agent, David Falk, would be intimately involved in the Wizards' decision-making.

Oh, and guess who's coming to practice?

None other than ESPN's Athlete of the Century.

"The best evaluation of a basketball player I can ever give anyone is to look in his eyes and see how scared he may be," Jordan said.

Take that, Wizards.

"I don't know if Gar may like that or not, but I'm his boss, so I can do that," Jordan added.

Take that, coach.

Jordan might not succeed in reviving one of the NBA's sorriest franchises, but just as in his failed minor-league baseball career, he'll go down swinging, and a fascinated public will follow his every move.

Minority owner Ted Leonsis said the Wizards would now become "America's basketball team." Washington Mayor Anthony Williams said Jordan the executive would serve as a role model for D.C. youth.

As always, Jordan seemed eager for every challenge, shrugging off the fact that "people can't seem to separate between me the player and me putting players in the uniform."

How can they?

Jordan, 36, is in only his second season of retirement, and if NBC televised his practices with the Wizards, the network would draw higher television ratings than it does for many NBA games.

Heard, naturally, endorsed the idea of Jordan practicing with the team, the way Norv Turner endorsed Daniel Snyder meeting with players, the way Ray Miller endorsed Peter Angelos ordering veal scallopini at Boccaccio's.

"That's going to make them compete even harder," Heard said. "If you don't, that might be the quickest ticket out of here."

Good answer, Gar! Good answer!

NBA rules prohibit owners from hiring themselves as players, so forget about Jordan ever wearing No. 23 for the Wizards, not that he would want to subject himself to such torture.

He also will be a minority investor in the Washington Capitals, and those poor hockey players are now shaking with fear, wondering if MJ can skate.

Actually, Jordan said he will steer clear of both the Capitals and WNBA's Washington Mystics, explaining, "I've got to deal with men's basketball -- that's enough right now."

Men's basketball. Wizards basketball. Losing basketball.

Jordan immediately labeled the team "underachieving," then promised to leave his "imprints and footprints" all over the organization, guaranteeing job security for only general manager Wes Unseld.

Of course, there's little that Jordan can do to shake up the Wizards' roster, with salary-cap restrictions making it virtually impossible to trade Juwan Howard, Rod Strickland and Mitch Richmond.


"There's a lot of speculation. Right now it is just speculation," Jordan said, giving his first vote of no-confidence with the same cold-blooded ease that he once drained game-winning three-pointers.

"My job is to come in and evaluate everything involved in this organization. If everyone is looking over their heads and making sure their necks don't get chopped off, that's good. That means you go out there and do your job.

"If any of the players are worried about being traded, go out there and do your job and you don't have to worry about it. If Gar is worried about what's going to happen behind him, Gar's going to go out and do his job. That's all we ever ask. I'm not saying I'm going to fire Gar Heard. I'm going to evaluate everybody."

Translation: Heard is in trouble.

Which brings us to Falk.

Falk represents Howard and Strickland, both of whom reportedly are unhappy with Heard.

Would the agent propose that one of his clients fire a man disliked by two of his other clients?

He was standing behind a curtain yesterday like the Wizard of Oz, for crying out loud!

"Let's straighten the arrow a little bit," Jordan said. "David works for me instead of me working for David. He's been my adviser for 15 years. I've always respected him. He's always given me advice when I've asked. But when a decision has been made, it has always been my decision.

"He certainly can be a pain in the butt. I know that. But the good thing about it is he's a great pain in the butt to have on your side. I look forward to utilizing his advice. But I will be making my own decisions instead of David Falk making decisions for me."

Jordan stressed patience, knowing he can't reconstruct the Wizards immediately. Still, can anyone imagine him spending three years idling? Leonsis said that he was "overwhelmed by [Jordan's] directness" in their negotiating sessions. The rest of the organization will be even more overwhelmed.

His Bossness learned from Jerry Reinsdorf, didn't he?

Everyone run for cover.

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