Saturday, January 15, 2000

So Michael Jordan is poised to buy into Washington’s NBA franchise and take over basketball operations for the Wizards. The media, including ESPN, have been all over the story for three days, trying to chase down His Airness, quizzing tight-lipped execs and raising a number of questions concerning the pros and cons of such a huge deal. As yet, the arrangements, like the player, are up in the air. Still, it’s hard to resist imagining what he could offer Wizards’ fans.

A wizard on the court himself, Michael Jordan would bring instant cachet to the Washington Wizards. Remember this is the man whose on-court prowess led to six NBA championships for the Chicago Bulls, five MVP awards and 10 scoring titles. This is the man who gave new meaning to the terms “endorsement” and “competition” the former would not have been so important if it were not for the latter.

Michael Jordan the player was, and probably always will be, competitive. Highly competitive. He and the players who struggled against him during his 13 remarkable seasons readily acknowledge as much and in case you have forgotten, the inestimable Michael Jordan never lost interest in basketball. After announcing his retirement from the court, Jordan once said that the chance “to stay involved with the NBA would be a fulfilling personal and business challenge.” The pivotal word here, of course, is “challenge.”

And what a challenge would lie before him in the front office of the Wizards. Besides winning an endorsement of any changes he would make from Wizards’ owners Abe Pollin, Ted Leonsis and others, Jordan would have his hands full with a mediocre club that stood at 12-24 going into last night’s game. Part of the problem, as fans see things, is the will to win. You know, that competitive spirit that drove Jordan and the Bulls from game to game and all those championships? At present the lack of competitive fire among Wizards’ players rivals only that of the front-office execs. Given Jordan’s own drive to win, one wonders how long Wizards’ officials and players who didn’t share that drive would be around. Jordan does not, to put things mildly, like to lose. Period.

In this respect, perhaps, Jordan is not unlike new Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder. Mr. Snyder’s insistence that the will to win is as important as the skill to play has made a marked difference in a team that, like the Wizards, wallowed in mediocrity season after season.

Indeed, rare have been the occasions when good news emanated from Washington’s NBA franchise and eclipsed that of the city’s beloved Redskins. Oh sure, big deals surrounding player salaries always made headlines, and when players had a brush with the law, as several Wizards have, news coverage often colored game coverage. So even as the Redskins head into today’s playoff game in Tampa Bay, the Wizards and Michael Jordan are the talk of town.

Would General Manager (and former player) Wes Unseld stay or go? Would Juwan Howard and Rod Strickland meet Jordan’s idea of top-flight, competitive players? Would Jordan’s spot in the front office draw fans to the MCI Center? Not without a winning team. Turning around the Wizards might be as challenging as any title run he made. But anybody who saw him play must know by now how risky it would be to bet against Michael Jordan.

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