- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 2, 2001

Michael Jordan did not stumble or fall down as he made his way to the legacy-obsessed herd in Tony Cheng's neighborhood yesterday. This was a good start for a 38-year-old basketball player who has been given the history lessons of Willie Mays in recent weeks.

Near the end of his baseball career, Mays stood in the outfield with a walking cane and an oxygen tank and required a Seeing Eye dog to find the batter's box. It was a sad end to an otherwise impeccable career, if not an end with a remarkable shelf life.

Mays stumbled around in his final hours with the Mets before stumbling around in a Coors commercial, and Roger Maris' hair fell out in clumps in 1961.

Luckily, Jordan has been bald forever.

Despite all the warnings, Jordan is hoping to earn a starting position with the Wizards.

He did not look bad for someone who has been lugging around an increasingly heavy birth certificate in recent months, which undoubtedly contributed to his back spasms.

It seems his comeback is intruding on how others would like to remember him. They remember his last game with the Bulls, in June 1998, and the championship-winning shot over Bryon Russell and the Jazz. It was, except for the push-off maneuver against Russell, the perfect ending.

To some, the prospect of Jordan stumbling around in the outfield apparently is too much to bear, al

though he achieved some version of that following his first retirement party in 1993.

"I'm not committing a crime here," Jordan said.

Jordan stands accused of being 38 years old, relatively young by John Stockton's standards, but so yesteryear by Kobe Bryant's standards.

The NBA was just coming out of its post-Jordan funk. Now Jordan is putting the process on hold, commanding the requisite attention commensurate with his pop-icon status.

Washington is not apt to complain or feel David Stern's marketing pain, not after a 19-63 season and the appeal to wait three years on Kwame Brown.

A 38-year-old Jordan beats the customary indifference that envelops the franchise, intractable as it has been since the playing days of Wes Unseld and Elvin Hayes.

Police stops have come to be the identifying mark of the franchise instead of defensive stops in recent seasons.

The question of Jordan tarnishing his legacy is really no question at all.

By the time Babe Ruth landed with the Boston Braves, he weighed a zillion pounds and was merely a gate attraction. His legacy persists, hot dogs and all, regardless of his stint with the Braves.

Jordan is not going to embarrass himself anyway. If that were a possibility, he would not be trying to forge a peace with the sport he once dominated. His days of taking off from the foul line to dunk are long past, as he conceded.

If the truth be known, they were over before his second go-around with the Bulls. He did not spend all his time swinging at curve balls in the dirt during his first break from the NBA. He added a nasty fadeaway jump shot to his repertoire and became a more consistent outside shooter.

What might be his newest wrinkle? He did not say. His immediate concern is clear enough. He has to adjust to the limitations of his age, the time away from the game and the NBA's first season with the zone defense.

"I don't think anyone has a clear indication of how the rules apply," he said. "I don't have a good understanding at this time."

The employment of the zone defense just might prove more daunting to Jordan than all the other considerations. He did not ascend to the highest level of his sport because of an inability to create his own shot. That ability becomes trickier if three defenders are tugging at your jersey before the ball has been passed your way.

Jordan is certain to draw a crowd until his supporting cast shows it can complete the elementary plays.

The elementary stuff is up to coach Doug Collins. He has heard the initial team forecasts, none favorable.

"Should I be scared?" he said.

Not 19-63 scared, that's for sure. And that's enough for now.

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