- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 11, 2001

Michael Jordan playing for the Washington Wizards next season?

Forget it, according to nearly everybody in a position to know.

Wizards majority owner Abe Pollin's "gut feeling" that Michael Jordan will return to the NBA expressed Monday in interviews with a Comcast SportsNet television host and The Washington Post was greeted and treated with widespread skepticism yesterday.

"I think that's just the wishful thinking of a [77]-year-old man who wants to see his team turn the corner in the worst way," one highly placed Wizards source said. "I don't know where it came from. This story seems like it's never going to die."

Jordan, 38, has tried to put the story to rest. The Wizards' president of basketball operations could not be reached for comment yesterday. However, Jordan has stated over the past several months that he is "99.9 percent" sure he won't return, giving reporters an eyeroll of disbelief when repeatedly asked about the subject.

Minority owner Ted Leonsis, who had dinner with Jordan a week ago, disparaged any possibility of Jordan playing again.

"I don't think the situation has changed one iota," Leonsis told The Washington Times. "He's been asked this question a thousand times, and each time he's said he's an executive now, that he's 99.9 percent not coming back but you never say never. But I asked him point blank last week if anything has changed, and he said no."

Leonsis would have to know if Jordan intends to return. Under NBA rules, Jordan would be required to divest his stake in the Wizards estimated to be about 6 percent before returning to the court. Leonsis, as the lead partner in Lincoln Holdings, would be directly involved in the paperwork of transferring Jordan's holdings.

Jordan also owns a slightly larger percentage of the Washington Capitals, a franchise owned by Leonsis.

"I'm sorry this all has happened," Leonsis added yesterday. "It's unfortunate we have to talk about this two days before [the Washington Capitals] go into the playoffs."

Speculation about a comeback has been fueled in part by Jordan's occasional workouts with the Wizards and recreational games at a health club.

"The only thing [it] signals is that I'm getting some exercise," Jordan said last week of his workouts.

Why did Pollin make his comments?

"I have no idea," Leonsis said. "You'd have to ask him. My advice to everyone is that nobody should speak for Michael. I shouldn't. Abe Pollin shouldn't. [Agent] David Falk shouldn't. Only Michael should speak for Michael."

In an interview Monday with Comcast's Chick Hernandez, Pollin sounded almost certain that Jordan would return. Pollin prefaced his statement by saying that he was simply stating an opinion.

"The odds are that he's going to come back," Pollin said. "I think he's going to decide whether he's going to be able to play at the level that is satisfying for him."

Even if he is capable of that which in and of itself is doubtful it would be a huge task for even Jordan to return the 38-year-old franchise to respectability.

Since the team won the NBA championship during the 1977-78 season and lost in the finals the following year, it has made just seven playoff appearances and has qualified for the postseason just once over the last 14 years. Since 1980, the team never has won more than 44 games in a season and has posted a winning record just five times.

Sources close to Jordan say he has become almost obsessive about turning the moribund franchise into a winner. He has hacked the team's payroll from $57 million to $39 million, which will put the team under the projected $44 million to $46 million salary cap for next season.

Next summer, when players like Vince Carter and Paul Pierce could be available as free agents, the Wizards could be a major player with as much as $20 million available in cap space.

"He's working very hard at making this team better every day," a Wizards source said. "I don't think he wants to sabotage what he's got going right now… . I've never heard him speculate on the subject [of returning as a player]."

• Staff writer Eric Fisher contributed to this report.

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