- The Washington Times - Friday, December 22, 2000

So Michael Jordan's answer to his critics that he should be a more visible presence for the Washington Wizards franchise is that he is not going to be anybody's "show pony."

Well, My Friend Flicka, what do you think you are doing for MVP.com? Do you think it brought you into that venture because of your Internet expertise?

Hey, Trigger, what the heck do you think you're doing when you're selling underwear on television? Or appearing in those MCI Worldcom commercials?

Look, Fury, I hate to break the news to you, but remember when you were only earning about $3 million a year playing basketball but $30 million off the court? If you had to write up a job description for it, "show pony" would have fit just fine.

No one is blaming Jordan for the substance of the Wizards' problems, although he should take some heat for his preseason prediction of a .500 season. At 5-21, the Wizards would have to go 36-20 the rest of the year. Normally, I'd say that was no problem if they played the Clippers or the Grizzlies every night, but they can't even beat those lousy teams. The Grizzlies had lost 16 of their last 19 games before beating the Wizards 118-104 Wednesday night in Vancouver.

It was clear when National Velvet took over and remains clear today that the Wizards are at least three years away from being able to compete, and that's only if he makes the right moves. Because of cap and contract problems he inherited, there is little Jordan can do to significantly improve the talent on this team.

And this was a bad franchise long before Silver showed up, so it's no surprise in that less than a year on the job, it is still a bad franchise.

But people were expecting more in the way of style and symbolism when Jordan became president of the Wizards. He represented hope, and so far he has failed miserably at providing it.

It is perfectly reasonable for Wizards fans to expect to see Jordan at home games. It is perfectly reasonable for Wizards fans to expect to see Jordan out promoting the team. It is perfectly reasonable for Wizards fans to expect Jordan to be accessible to the local media.

It is not only reasonable, but it is all part of the job of being president of basketball operations for a franchise in trouble. He says he doesn't want to be a "show pony"? Well, this is the glue factory, baby. We haven't seen too many show ponies in the last 23 years. People wouldn't mind getting a look once in awhile.

Instead, what is Champion doing? Talking to a Chicago paper about how he wished he was still playing for his old Bulls team.

Jordan told the Chicago Sun-Times that he still regrets that the Bulls broke up. "We'd still be the defending champions," Jordan said. "I was really looking forward to continuing to play. If Phil [Jackson] and Scottie Pippen would have been there, I'd still be playing."

He's not playing in Chicago, though, and, unfortunately, not in Washington either. That would be the final nail in the Jordan image coffin, if he did a Mario Lemieux and came back to play. Then not only would his reputation suffer for running the team his basketball legend also would be tarnished by playing for a loser. Like I've said, this is the elephant graveyard for basketball reputations.

But no one is asking him to play, just to do what he does for Hanes, for MCI Worldcom, for Gatorade, for Nike sell the product.

This was the sales pitch Topper was giving to the Sun-Times. "I've never been this frustrated," he said. "Never. It's a totally new experience for me. Instead of playing to win, these guys play not to lose. They are totally scared, and it's embarrassing to sit there and watch the game."

You know, I don't know a lot about advertising or promotion, but I don't think he sells a lot of underwear that way.

That's certainly not the tune Scout was singing when he was hired last January, when asked to assess the situation he was inheriting. "There are a couple All-Star players, and there are some young players here who probably don't understand real well their chances and opportunities they're being presented with," Jordan said. "I think we have to find a way to make them understand their responsibility for the checks they're being paid with. I think that's a good starting point for us. Believe me that's not going to happen overnight. I look forward to turning this thing around in a matter of time, and quite naturally I'm going to try to have my imprints and footprints all over this organization."

Just not his hoofprints.

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