- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 23, 2000

Before last night's game against the Milwaukee Bucks at MCI Center, Michael Jordan walked out of the general manager's office in the locker room carrying a shoe. Jordan had no new players and no words of wisdom about the plight of his team, the Washington Wizards.

"Nothing yet," Jordan said. "Keep your ears to the wall."

He walked back in and closed the door, so I put my ear up against the wall.

I think I heard crying.

The Wizards have become the Washington Generals, the team the Harlem Globetrotters used to take with them on their road show. The Wizards have lost 15 straight road games and have an overall season record of 16-38.

They managed to break a seven-game losing streak last night with one of their best performances of the season, a 126-101 win. Six players were in double figures. Mitch Richmond led the way with 26 points, Jahidi White was a force in the middle with 18 points and 11 rebounds and Tracy Murray added 18 points.

It was the kind of game that should not be so infrequent, given the talent on this team. But winning at a Los Angeles Clippers-like rate is nothing to write home about or to write nice things about in the newspaper.

The Wizards returned from losing all four games of their West Coast trip in style. Several hundred trucks came to Washington yesterday to give Rod Strickland an escort to the game and he still was late.

Strickland strolled into the locker room at about 6:05 p.m. Jordan yelled from his office, "5:30," to which Strickland replied, "Yo, Mike."

Yo, Mike. It's getting harder and harder to watch you in those television commercials with Bugs Bunny with your team actually doing worse than before you took over.

Coach Darrell Walker wondered whether the trucker's demonstration that hit the city yesterday might have made Strickland late. Maybe that's what kept all the fans away from MCI last night.

It's going to take more than Jordan standing tall in the owner's box watching the dance team to draw people to watch this team. There were at least a half-dozen signs in the stands supporting the dancers, who reportedly are not meeting Jordan's standards.

Last week in Philadelphia, the 76ers had a promotion in which 76 couples were married or renewed their vows at halftime. Maybe the Wizards could invite couples to come in and divorce at halftime a seemingly more appropriate function for this franchise.

It was startling to see so many empty seats at MCI at game time. The attendance was announced at 11,413, but it looked like there were, at the most, 6,500 in the stands. It was like a Bayrunners crowd in Baltimore a minor league crowd. They were fortunate to see a Wizards victory. Only 10 other crowds at MCI this year had seen one.

Jordan's team may not be winning much on the court, but that doesn't mean he doesn't have a winning team. I saw his picture in a classified newspaper ad that read, "Looking for career opportunities? MCI WorldCom is the winning team."

He might want to pass that ad on to Walker.

Walker is the latest sacrificial lamb to coach the Wizards, and so far, Gar Heard's replacement is 2-8. Before the game, Walker made the same sort of complaints his predecessors, Heard and Bernie Bickerstaff, made before him.

He did not go so far as to call his team a quitter or soft. "They are playing hard," he said.

They just aren't playing hard as long as the teams they play. "We're just not finishing," Walker said. "The players have to look upon themselves to get it done. We have to get it done for 48 minutes. That's what it comes down to.

"How many coaches has this team had?" Walker asked. "At some point, you have to compete. We had teams when I played here that lost, but we competed."

Walker tapped his chest as he spoke but was careful not to question his team's effort, although it is hard to imagine how much worse they would play if they quit on him. "We're playing hard, but we're just not getting over the hump," Walker said.

Sometimes they can play hard and good at the same time, such as they did last night.

It's obvious, though, the best fans could hope for now is to be bad enough for the Wizards to get a top-three pick in the NBA Draft. Then Jordan and Unseld could revamp the team and start over again, as long as the salary cap doesn't choke them too much.

Then, at least, people will look out on the court and see hope through the mistakes. Then, at least, people may see the Washington Wizards and not the Washington Generals.

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