- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 19, 2001

Michael Jordan has worked awfully hard for a 38-year-old executive who was 99.9 percent certain against playing in the NBA again last April.

This is life in fantasy land, where one-tenth of a percent is a hint to the masses to monitor a person's back spasms, two broken ribs and tendinitis in the knee.

The injury report is a hint, too, that a 38-year-old body is not as nimble and sturdy as a 28-year-old one, as if there ever was a doubt.

To be fair, doubt was expressed by the hyperventilators who held Jordan up as a worthy opponent to Father Time, undefeated though he is.

The air has been let out of the Jordan-inspired suspense because of what happened in the air on Sept. 11, 2001.

The decision has been rendered anticlimactic, no fault of his coyness and those playmates sworn to secrecy. His one-tenth of a percent pales next to the 88 percent of Americans who assume Osama bin Laden is a breathing dead man. The breathing part, of course, is just a technicality.

Jordan has elected to tiptoe around the grief and a nation's resolve to respond, perhaps because he feels as small and vulnerable as the rest of us.

Jordan is in no position to help the nation heal, either. The same goes for all the others in fantasy land. Let this be a gentle reminder that the healing process is being orchestrated by the nation's leaders, clergy and military, with the exception of Rep. Barbara Lee, the California Democrat who is at least a vote shy of a full deck.

The signs of renewed purpose are all around, the fun and games included.

One of the most encouraging images was the ringing of the opening bell on Wall Street on Monday morning, the honor going to New York City firefighters who have labored in the rubble of the World Trade Center towers. It is

hardly business as usual, the casualty on top of all the real ones. The attempt is what counts.

Jordan is a businessman, too, the best shoe salesman around, predisposed to rev up the red, white and blue engine of consumerism.

Jordan's return matters only as it should have mattered before Americans became instant experts on the topography of Afghanistan. It would be nice to have Washington back in the NBA, if the NBA stimulates your passions and a 19-win season is not worth the effort.

Jordan is said to have pushed his announcement back to just before the opening of training camp early next month. This follows a summer-long pattern, whether the postponement was precipitated by two broken ribs or a nation's broken heart. He is planning to make his intentions known by fax, a form of communication that reflects the sudden absence of intrigue.

It has persisted too long anyway, coming as it did with a disingenuous touch. It also was elevated into something it never was, which was the second second coming of the secular world. The point is too hard to ignore eight days after the attack on America.

The talking heads on ESPN have ended their lectures, which, hopefully, made them feel better. Their unimportance is not unimportant, the same as Jordan. The games and personalities break the unsettling tedium, now more than ever.

Jordan just might want to reevaluate his inclination to communicate by fax. Interest in him has been altered, not eliminated, judging by the level of telephonic activity directed to Tony Cheng's neighborhood after he was inadvertently listed on the team's player roster at NBA.com.

It was deemed a clerical error instead of a confirmation by the NBA. This goes with the spinning, the parsing and the happenstance in the schedule that allows the Wizards to open the season in Madison Square Garden, Jordan's favorite arena on the road.

America is trying to forge a balance between what was and what is, negotiating between nothing being changed and everything being changed.

Jordan is caught in this vortex, as we all are. His return, reduced substantially by the horror of Sept. 11, is still something, even if we are having a hard time finding the proper context for it.

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