Professor Jordan's back

For love, not money, Wizard trades in his suit for uniform

Pro Basketball

September 26, 2001|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - The comeback road Michael Jordan traveled the past few months included back spasms, broken ribs and sore knees. In the end, nothing could deter the 38-year-old legend from his decision to return to the NBA after a three-year absence.

Not even the prospect of a $35 million pay cut.

In a statement he released yesterday, Jordan said he will sign a two-year contract with the Washington Wizards, the franchise he joined 20 months ago as president of basketball operations, and will donate all of this season's $1 million salary to relief efforts for victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Jordan reiterated recent comments he made that he is coming back "for the love of the game." Widely considered the best to have ever played, Jordan helped the Chicago Bulls win six NBA titles in 13 years while being named MVP five times and being the league's leading scorer 10 times.

"I am returning as a player to the game I love because during the last year and a half, as a member of the Washington Wizards management, I enjoyed working with our young players and sharing my own experiences as a player," said Jordan, who earned a reported $36 million in his last season with the Bulls.

"I feel there is no better way of teaching young players than to be on the court with them as a fellow player, not just in practice, but in actual NBA games. While nothing can take away from the past, I am firmly focused on the future and the competitive challenge ahead of me."

Jordan's decision not to hold a news conference to announce his comeback was made out of "deep respect" for the victims of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon as well as the crash in Shanksville, Pa., of another airliner hijacked by terrorists.

"Although I am energized by my impending return to the court, I am deeply saddened by the recent tragic events and my heart goes out to the victims and their families," Jordan said. "I will not participate in media interviews before the start of training camp on Oct. 1."

Those will take place at the MCI Center the day before training camp officially begins in Wilmington, N.C., Jordan's hometown. The Wizards will hold camp from Oct. 2-10 at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. The Wizards will open the regular season Oct. 30 in New York.

According to reports, Jordan has divested himself of his reported 10 percent stake in the ownership of the Wizards by selling his share in Lincoln Holdings, which owns the Wizards, Capitals and the MCI Center, back to Ted Leonsis, the founder and CEO of Lincoln Holdings.

"This is a great day for fans of basketball in Washington, D.C., throughout the country and around the world. ... I now can't wait until the new season starts," Leonsis said.

Neither can Doug Collins, whom Jordan had hired as coach after last season. Collins, who coached Jordan early in his career with the Bulls, said yesterday, "I felt like I was talking to a guy who's looking forward to playing his first NBA game. That's the kind of energy and excitement that he had."

Since NBA bylaws also prevent Jordan from continuing as team president, the Wizards will have to find someone to run the day-to-day operations of the team. Those responsibilities could fall to general manager Wes Unseld or assistant general manager Rod Higgins, or to someone now outside the organization with ties to Jordan.

The announcement that Jordan was making the second comeback of his career had been expected for weeks, if not months. Jordan had been preparing since early May and, despite suffering broken ribs in June, had steadily raised the intensity of his workouts.

It is not known whether Jordan plans on playing a full schedule, beginning with the first preseason game Oct. 11 against the host Detroit Pistons or whether he will pace himself as Mario Lemieux did in his NHL comeback last season with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Jordan's return will certainly provide the NBA with a boon as far as attendance and television ratings.

"I am happy to welcome Michael Jordan, the player, back to the NBA, although as commissioner I am sorry to lose him in the boardroom," NBA commissioner David Stern said in a statement. "Michael has always brought joy to basketball around the world, and in these difficult times, we can all use a little more joy in our lives."

The decision by Jordan to play for the Wizards, however contradictory it might seem given his well-documented disdain for losing, should provide a significant boost to a team that hasn't been to the playoffs in four years and finished last season with a 19-63 record, the second worst in team history.

"This is certainly an important moment in the history of our franchise. However our excitement is muted by the world events that surround us," said Washington Sports and Entertainment chairman Abe Pollin. "The greatest player in the history of the game is joining my team, and for that I am extremely honored and pleased."

Said Collins, who like Jordan is returning after a three-year absence: "With a young team, if you put Michael Jordan on the practice floor every day with these young guys and they just see why he's Michael Jordan, it would be the greatest thing that these young guys could ever get."

Jordan said that his decision was based in part on the makeup of the team he has put together.

"I am especially excited about the Washington Wizards, and I'm convinced we have the foundation on which to build a playoff-contention team," said Jordan, who will return as the league's fourth all-time scorer. "The opportunity to teach our young players and help them elevate their game, and to thank the fans in Washington for their loyalty and support, strongly influenced my decision."

Michael Jordan by the numbers

2: Number of retirements

5: Season MVP awards

6: NBA titles

9: Times on All-Defensive first team

10: League scoring titles (NBA record)

31.5 : Career scoring average (NBA record)

38: Jordan's age

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