- The Washington Times - Friday, January 21, 2000

Calm down, Washington.

Stop hyperventilating in front of Michael Jordan.

It's embarrassing.

Not to kill the mood, but this project involving the Wizards is going to require a considerable amount of time, persistence, patience, skill and luck.

As if to confirm it, the Wizards lost by 18 points to the Mavericks while playing before their new director of basketball operations Wednesday night. The Wizards did not appear to be inspired, at least not in the third quarter, when they let the game slip away.

That was only the first piece of reality. More pieces are certain to follow.

As Jordan knows only too well, the NBA is a monster league. The difference between the haves and have-nots is often slight, barely perceptible on paper.

The Wizards are not a 12-28 team on paper. But 12-28 they are. Is it the coaching, team chemistry, indifference, a culture of losing? Theories abound inside and outside the organization, and the Wizards have spent the last few offseasons trying to address the most favorite theories of the moment, but to no avail.

Basketball can be a cruel game at the highest level. Players fail. Players succeed. Situations beyond a player's control often dictate the outcome.

Ask Jaren Jackson. He played on eight NBA teams in nine seasons before it all came together for him in San Antonio: his role, his comfort level, his sense of belonging.

Of all the ex-Georgetown players in the NBA, Jackson is one of the least celebrated ones, hardly celebrated at all, really. Yet he is the only ex-Georgetown player to earn a championship ring, and in some ways, his odyssey speaks as much about the NBA as it does his character.

Take the offseason trade by Wes Unseld that brought in center Ike Austin. It looked like a steal at the time. Austin wanted out in Orlando and was only one year removed from his best season in the NBA, when he averaged 13.7 points and 7.1 rebounds with the Heat and Clippers in 1997-98.

Now look. Forty games into the season, Austin is buried on the bench after losing his starting position to Jahidi White. Who could have predicted that? Given the circumstances last August, you make the trade again and thank the Magic for going with a youth movement.

Jordan says he plans to look for fear in the eyes of the Wizards. That's fine. Look for fear. But if Jordan had looked into the eyes of Jackson as he was accumulating pink slips around the NBA, he might have seen some fear, and it would have been understandable. Last spring, however, as the Spurs were making their championship run, Jackson did not exude fear at all. If anything, he was fearless, burying big shot after big shot.

Abe Pollin and Ted Leonsis have every reason to celebrate their coup. Jordan brings an unthinkable level of celebrity to the franchise. You can tell by all the breathless words being dispensed in his honor. Beyond that, however, Jordan brings inexperience. He will be a quick learner, no doubt, but elements beyond his control will play a more pivotal role in determining his success or failure than his previous endeavors.

He now is in charge of 12 players, and everything that entails, including whether one is pulled over by police at 3 in the morning.

The NBA's personnel bosses make a series of decisions each year and hope a good number of them turn out right. They aren't always right, and even when they are right, they aren't always rewarded.

Re-signing Juwan Howard was the right move at the time. Trading Chris Webber for Mitch Richmond was the right move at the time. Re-signing Rod Strickland was the right move at the time. Trading for Austin was the right move at the time.

Four right moves later, the team is 12-28 and hoping Jordan can walk on water. That's not fair to Jordan. It also is not fair to what Unseld attempted to do.

If you recall, two teams passed on Jordan in the 1984 draft, and no one thought it was odd at the time. In the wisdom of the time, a quality post player was preferable to a quality perimeter player. So Hakeem Olajuwon went No. 1 in 1984, Sam Bowie No. 2.

Sixteen years later, Bowie's name in particular evokes a chuckle when mentioned in connection with Jordan's. Yet at the time, Bowie going No. 2 was logical.

That's the thing with personnel. So much of it is a crapshoot, out of your control, and getting lucky is part of it.

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