Jordan's rumored return was pulled out of thin air

ON THE NBA

Pro Basketball

March 18, 2001|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

Here's a riddle: What do Elvis, big bands and Michael Jordan have in common? Answer: None is coming back.

Absent occasional convenience-store sightings and infrequent jitterburg contests, we're pretty sure the first two are ensconced in history, and so should Jordan's playing career.

Last week's stirrings about a possible Jordan comeback, prompted by a column from Sports Illustrated writer Rick Reilly, triggered a predictable frenzy of rumor and speculation that His Airness, 38, would come out of a three-year retirement to play for the Washington Wizards.

All it took was Reilly's unsubstantiated report -- which didn't have a single on-the-record confirmation -- and the fact that Jordan is working out to lose weight to better fit into his suits, and off went otherwise sane reporters to track it down.(By the way, the suspicion is that the source who told Reilly that it was "90 percent certain" Jordan would return with his buddy Charles Barkley in tow was Barkley himself. It's a logical supposition, because Reilly and Barkley collaborated on one of Barkley's autobiographies. The next time Charles calls you with something like this, Rick, do us all a favor and hang up.)

A cold, logical look at the facts should have suggested to anyone that Jordan would have so much more to lose than to gain by returning to the game.

Why would Jordan, as protective of his image as a lioness is of her cubs, potentially tarnish that image at an age when he is more likely to look like the 1973 version of Willie Mays than the 1951 version? Why would Jordan, in the midst of building a reputation as a savvy executive after getting the Dallas Mavericks to take Juwan Howard's salary, surrender his ownership stake with the Wizards?

And finally, why would he come back to play with the Wizards, who, despite Jordan's efforts, will likely be as dreadful next season as they are in 2000-01? Of course, Jordan, who like former President Bill Clinton doesn't seem to know when to leave the spotlight, could end the speculation by ruling out a return rather than playing cutesy with his declaration that he will never say never.

But, it's a cinch that Jordan, as they used to announce after Elvis' concerts, has left the building.

Quiz

Utah Jazz coach Jerry Sloan is on the verge of becoming the sixth coach in NBA history to work 1,000 games on the same sideline. Name the other five. Hint: One of them did it locally.

A dream retired

It is entirely possible that Houston Rockets center Hakeem Olajuwon, who was rumored to be considering retirement, may have played his last game, with the announcement that he will miss the rest of his 17th season because of a blood disorder.

Philadelphia 76ers center Dikembe Mutombo reflected on walking by the U.S. Embassy in the streets of Kinshasa, Zaire, as a gangly 10th-grader, and seeing pictures of Olajuwon from his early Rockets career.

"Me and a couple of my friends were a little bit shocked. Who was this Nigerian? This was the first time we had heard that an African could play basketball in the NBA and make such a big impact," Mutombo said. "When I came to America, it was very easy for me just to watch him night after night, to learn where Hakeem came from and what he did to get to the top. I learned so much. He had such a big influence in my life, to be one of the top Africans, and to make it to the NBA. He led me, and more kids are coming up behind me."

A modest proposal

In many cities, NBA and NHL teams share arena space. If Orlando Magic guard Darrell Armstrong has his way, they could share rules as well.

"I think we need to have a penalty box. Give a player two minutes, and you have to play with four or five players on the floor. If the other team has five players, that's how you have to play. Let's do it like hockey," Armstrong said.

Of course, Armstrong's interest in modifying penalties came just after teammate Tracy McGrady grappled with the Sacramento Kings' Bobby Jackson in overtime of a game Tuesday. McGrady was suspended for two games and fined $10,000 at a time when the Magic is making a playoff push.

"For Tracy, he's just got to realize that his play and his presence [are] important to our team," Armstrong said. "He's still learning, he's still young, and I don't want to use young as an excuse, but he's still learning. Those situations that he's getting into now are going to help him in the future, because he's going to realize that his play is definitely important to our team."

Crime and punishment

The First Amendment got trampled a bit last week, as league punishment chief Stu Jackson rapped a couple of coaches across the knuckles for speaking their minds.

Houston coach Rudy Tomjanovich drew a $5,000 fine for criticizing game officials after the Rockets' loss at Phoenix last Sunday, but that was chump change compared with the penalty levied against Milwaukee Bucks coach George Karl for an oblique reference to the front office in Seattle, Karl's former employer.

Before a game in Charlotte, Karl was asked a seemingly innocuous question about whether, if he were still in Seattle, he would trade Gary Payton, to which Karl replied, "I said, `I'd keep Gary Payton and trade the management.' "

But Karl couldn't leave well enough alone, adding, "Make sure you get that in [the paper]." Reporters did, and Karl got socked with a $50,000 fine, to add to the $25,000 he was fined last season for making similar comments about the SuperSonics.

Quiz answer

The other five men to coach 1,000 games with the same franchise (with teams and the number of games in parentheses) are Red Auerbach (Celtics, 1,192), John MacLeod (Suns, 1,122), Red Holzman (Knicks, 1,097), Al Attles (Warriors, 1,075) and Gene Shue (Bullets, 1,027).

Quote of the week

"You can't even talk about chitlins."-- Orlando coach Doc Rivers, after McGrady was quoted as saying he could lure potential free agent Chris Webber to the Magic with soul food, drawing a tampering reprimand from the league.

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