- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 26, 2001

During Michael Jordan's six-month comeback deliberation, one thing was nearly certain from the start: If Jordan returned to the court, he would sell his equity in the Washington Wizards and Capitals back to partner Ted Leonsis.
Jordan did just that yesterday, completing a deal to return his equity in Lincoln Holdings back to Leonsis and fellow partners Raul Fernandez and Dick Patrick. The transfer of Jordan's 6 percent interest in Lincoln puts Jordan in compliance with an NBA ban on players holding shares of any league team. Financial terms for the transfer were not disclosed.
But Jordan's future as a team owner from here gets murky. Unlike a somewhat similar comeback deal from 1996 between Magic Johnson and Los Angeles Lakers owner Jerry Buss, Jordan has no provisions, written or otherwise, to regain his shares when he stops playing again.
If Jordan wants to return to the boardroom and front office, he must strike a new deal with Leonsis and Abe Pollin, Wizards majority owner. Then he would again have to go through all the same league approvals he cleared when he first bought the shares in January 2000.
"Michael is out. He has divested of his Lincoln equity and we are in compliance with league rules," Leonsis said. "There is no deal in place for him coming back to [Lincoln and the Wizards]. If that's what he ultimately wants, he can talk to me and Abe and see what happens."
Jordan, worth an estimated $398 million, would be free to pursue interest in another sports team after he stops playing. He unsuccessfully sought to buy pieces of the Charlotte Hornets and Milwaukee Bucks before he struck a deal with Leonsis and his partners.
The lack of a provision to repurchase the Lincoln shares was required by league statues, Leonsis said. But, according to industry sources, it also stems in part from a lack of clarity of what Lincoln may look like whenever Jordan opts to stop playing once and for all. The group may have different members by then. Fernandez, a Northern Virginia technology executive, has joined the group since Leonsis' initial discussions with Jordan began more than two years ago, and District entrepreneur Jonathan Ledecky has left.
Leonsis and his partners also have first and last rights of refusal to buy the 56 percent of Washington Sports & Entertainment L.P. (WSELP) from Pollin that they don't already own. The deal for those assets may also happen while Jordan is still in sneakers. The value of the franchise, with Jordan on the court, is expected to rise significantly from its current estimated value of $210 million.
In other words, Lincoln and the Wizards could both become vastly different entities in the near future, and forming any covenants with Jordan could be counterproductive.
WSELP's other assets, which were also embedded in Jordan's Lincoln equity, include MCI Center, operating rights to the Washington Mystics and the local Ticketmaster franchise.
Though Jordan's comeback could direct attention away from the Capitals, in which Lincoln has majority control, Leonsis has no issue with that.
"Michael has been a great partner and a great friend. This will make him happy, so as a friend, I am happy for him," Leonsis said. "And remember, I'm still a minority partner of the Wizards, so we still share in his success."

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