- The Washington Times - Friday, September 11, 2009

That was Michael Jordan, in his Mercedes with the Illinois license plate, pulling away from Tony Cheng’s neighborhood for the last time.

That image is etched in D.C. sports lore.

That was the shell of Jordan, beaten and bowed, unable to lift or inspire the Wizards in two ill-fated seasons as a player.

He was no better as the team’s president of basketball operations, running the organization by cell phone, as if it were a fantasy team.

He was forever looking to break par on a golf course without breaking a sweat as the team’s personnel guru, which was costly.

Jordan drafted Kwame Brown. He surrendered Richard Hamilton to obtain Jerry Stackhouse. He put lackeys around himself and imposed a wall intended to protect himself from the intrusion of his celebrity.

He could not just hop on a jet and walk into a gym to inspect the skill set of a precocious teen. The purpose would become secondary to the show that was around him.

Jordan lived part time at the Ritz-Carlton on 22nd Street in Northwest and became a fixture in the VIP rooms of the nearby watering holes.

This, too, was Jordan, not so much mesmerizing but desperate as he endeavored to reclaim the power of his youth and partied like it was 1999.

That was the legend as the District knew him, unfair though it is.

The aging process is never fair.

The pre-D.C. Jordan goes into the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., this weekend.

That Jordan was the best basketball player of the last generation and redefined how we thought a championship team could be constructed.

No high-scoring shooting guard could lead a team to a championship. That was the skepticism enveloping Jordan as he accumulated scoring titles but could not overcome the elbows and hip checks of Chuck Daly’s Pistons.

That turned out to be a blip in Jordan’s career arc.

He took the NBA on a merry ride in the ‘90s, becoming a transcendent figure who appealed to even the most casual basketball observer.

He was a marketer’s marvel with the million-dollar smile and charm galore that belied the cutthroat competitor inside him.

No one ever has connected with the public in such a deep way.

Not Tiger Woods. Not Kobe Bryant. And certainly not LeBron James.

Jordan’s corporate decision to be utterly affable and neutral to causes annoyed the “perfect people,” who become nostalgic over the upheaval of the ‘60s. Jordan had the good manners not to remind them that the ‘60s were long over.

He was a testament to that, his likeness plastered everywhere and pushing companies to record profits.

He finished with six NBA championships. It could have been eight if he had not pursued baseball, the passion he shared with his late father. He possibly could have added another championship in 1999 if Jerry Krause had not been in such a hurry to dismantle the Bulls.

Nothing seemed impossible with Jordan in the ‘90s, which is why so many of his co-opted ones in the media wanted to believe after he decided to come out of retirement and bring a jolt to the Wizards.

With his guile and post-up moves, Jordan could dominate a game on occasion. He just could not do it on a consistent basis, which left Doug Collins and the Wizards in an untenable position. They had no choice but to defer to him, even if they knew it was not always in the best interests of the team.

The Wizards finished with a 37-45 record in each of Jordan’s two seasons. By the end, his was nothing more than a grand farewell tour, the competition of the game subservient to the legend who once was.

Jordan missed a dunk in his last game in Philadelphia. The fans cheered him anyway.

Soon enough, Abe Pollin would end Jordan’s halfway commitment to the Wizards.

Unfortunately, that was the D.C. Jordan, far removed from the one who once enthralled the world.

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