- The Washington Times - Monday, June 18, 2001

Michael Jordan's midlife crisis came with the exhortation to break a leg.

He broke two ribs instead.

He remains 99.9 percent against playing in the NBA next season.

This is the lie everyone accepts in the interest of good sportsmanship.

His return was thought to be essential to the restoration of the NBA. The postseason has shown otherwise.

Jordan is becoming so yesterday, or yesteryear, as the NBA moves past his absence from the playing floor after three seasons.

The Lakers are worthy successors to the Jordan-led Bulls of the '90s, if not in a position to be eventually regarded as the stronger team.

Try not to snicker at the prospect of Shaquille O'Neal going against Bill Cartwright in the early '90s and then Luc Longley in the late '90s.

Comparisons between champions from different eras are not necessarily fair, just fun, and in this case, the comparison merely serves an ancillary function. The NBA has survived its cyclical correction. The NBA is back, and the signs are in precincts beyond Los Angeles: in Dallas, in Milwaukee, in Orlando, Fla., and in Sacramento, Calif.

Jordan is a footnote in the long-term picture of the NBA, and only a sideshow at the moment, approaching middle-age as a parody of his former self. Who knows? Jordan soon may start showing up in Tony Cheng's neighborhood in a sports car with the top down.

Two broken ribs could be taken as another hint to upgrade 99.9 percent to 100 percent against playing again. Before the ribs, it was the back. What's next, a broken hip?

Bones don't usually respond well to age. The same could be said of tendons, ligaments and cartilage. Anyone can get hurt, of course, the young as well as the old. It's just the probability of an injury is higher with the old.

Jordan is going up against an undefeated opponent. Father Time never loses. He may allow you to negotiate the terms of your surrender, but rest assured, you're going down one way or the other. Rest, by the way, is the operative word, eternal or otherwise.

Yet the belief in the impossible persists, if only because mortality is an unsettling subject, and Jordan is Jordan, as Dr. J was Dr. J. Hard as it was to believe, Dr. J became old, too.

The circus comes to town once a year. The Wizards are obligated to be in town 41 times next season. There is a history between the two.

The franchise tried Manute Bol and Muggsy Bogues in 1988, a sort of Mutt and Jeff tandem on a bad acid trip. Eighty-two old-timers games might surpass that.

Mark Price, who was the singing guard before Nikki McCray, is available.

Doug Collins apparently is serious, and still of sound mind. He was able to say goodbye to Marv Albert on the air without either crying or passing along a Victoria's Secret catalogue. The crying game undoubtedly comes later, and that goes double with Albert around.

Karl Malone and John Stockton have aged gracefully, if you're inclined to use them as part of Jordan's litmus test. They also hit the age-imposed wall last season, along about the beginning of March. Until then, they had every reason to think they were in the championship hunt, and their end, merciful as it was, came in the first round of the playoffs against the young legs of the Mavericks and the expansive ears of Juwan Howard.

Jordan is in the process of extricating the Wizards from their salary-cap demon. Mitch Richmond is the next to go, his departure to be sealed with a $10 million buyout kiss sometime before June 30 at midnight.

That leaves the Wizards with Jordan's two broken ribs, a couple of spare parts from a 19-63 season and the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft later this month.

That No. 1 pick is tormenting Jordan at the moment. He's trying to determine who's the next Tracy McGrady, as opposed to who's the next Sam Bowie, the bust taken No. 2 ahead of Jordan in the 1984 draft. A trade, anyone?

Whatever Jordan decides, the move, good or bad in hindsight, will go next to his title in big, bold type.

The draft takes precedence over his comeback attempt. He already has lost that battle. No one beats Father Time. No one.

If Jordan returns to the basketball floor, it will be only to negotiate, with dignity, the terms of another surrender to Father Time.

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