Jordan takes Wizards for test drive

Part-owner practices with team for first time

January 25, 2000|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Michael Jordan's most significant message to the Washington Wizards didn't come during yesterday's spirited two-hour practice, the first in which he participated since being introduced last week as president of basketball operations and minority owner.

It came nearly two hours before the 11 a.m. workout was scheduled to begin at the MCI Center.

Tracy Murray was the first player to arrive, around 9: 15, and found that his new boss was already there. Jordan was lifting weights with his personal trainer. It was the same routine that Jordan had followed during his 13-year career with the Chicago Bulls.

"I am trying to set a precedent," Jordan said later. "If you want to get ahead of the next team, whoever you're trying to surpass, you've got to work a little harder. We as an organization are trying to work harder so that the players can see and feed off that. If that means I have to come in and chastise and make people get up and get here early "

The message was directed at the Wizards in general, and at veteran point guard Rod Strickland in particular. As has been his custom with the Wizards, Strickland was the last player to arrive.

"Rod got here 15 minutes before practice," Jordan said. "I told him that if I have to come by and pick him up tomorrow, he'd better be here a little earlier. It's not in a bad way.

"It's in a way that: `You're a very important part to this team. You can be a leader on this team. If you get here 9: 30 or 9: 45, believe me, Laron [Profit] and Richard Hamilton and all these young guys, like Jahidi White, they're going to be here and they're going to be working on their games.' That's how you improve as a team."

The Wizards have lost two of three games since Jordan became a part of the organization, sandwiching non-competitive losses to Dallas and Atlanta around a stunning victory last Friday night at home against the Indiana Pacers, the best team in the NBA's Eastern Conference. The Wizards, with the conference's second-worst record at 13-29, play host to another of the conference's best teams, the New York Knicks, tonight at 7.

"The obvious thing with this team is they get up for the challenges," Jordan said. "The way they separate themselves from an average team or a good team is to take advantage of teams they're supposed to take advantage of. You don't make a big win against Indiana and come back with a lackluster game against Atlanta. Those are the things you have to learn. Hopefully tomorrow they'll come out with the same energy they had against Indiana."

While the media got a glimpse of Jordan running the court in Wizards practice gear with the familiar 23 on his back and the equally familiar Nike swoosh on his chest, it was a quick peek. Jordan ordered the group off of the practice court as majority owner Abe Pollin and general manager Wes Unseld sat silently.

The players got even more than a good look at the 36-year-old legend. They also got an earful of Jordan's legendary trash-talking.

"It's one thing about talking a little trash, not a derogatory type of trash, more or less a trash to get everyone a little motivated and challenged -- that's what I was trying to do today," Jordan said. "It makes practice even more harder and more fair, and more fun. So when the games come, it makes it a little easier. And you bond as a team."

Several players gave it back to Jordan, none more than Profit.

"He probably talked the most," Jordan said of the rookie guard from Maryland.

It might have been because Profit had played against Jordan before, in pickup games two years ago at Jordan's camp outside Chicago. Profit, then going into his senior year with the Terrapins, was working as a counselor. Asked how he did yesterday against Jordan, Profit joked, "He got the worst of it today he's not 25 anymore. I tried to remind him of that every time we matched up."

Turning serious, Profit said, "It was good for everybody. It was a good experience. Obviously playing against Mike is great for any young guy. It was great for practice. We really enjoyed it. He got the energy going."

Murray, who also matched up against Jordan in practice yesterday, said, "He's still very competitive. He's definitely moving still the same way. Still got the same game. It hasn't been too long."

Asked how he felt about Jordan's presence at practice yesterday, first-year coach Gar Heard said, "I would feel a lot better if he was on the court [against the Knicks] tomorrow night."

NBA rules preclude Jordan from playing with the Wizards and he has no plans of giving up his financial stake in the team or his reported five-year contract as president of basketball operations. Yesterday was merely his first scouting mission to see what kind of team he'll have to work with, and to give him an idea of which players he will want to build the future around.

"That's my job -- to evaluate," said Jordan, who also met over lunch with Pollin, Unseld, Heard and team president Susan O'Malley. "If my presence is going to give some incentive and motivation, that's good, too. I said in the press conference that I was going to evaluate everyone. The best evaluation for me is to be on the basketball court and see how the guys respond -- to coaching, to situations on the basketball court."

Jordan, who kiddingly asked for a beer after he came off the practice court, seemed as impressed with the players as they were with him.

"They had a great energy today, which is what we expect every day," he said. "Actually I told them they didn't have to wait for me to come out to show the energy they did today. It's good to see them work that hard. I just try to keep them focused. Challenge 'em. See what they had to say. If they can play hard against me, they can play hard against anybody."

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