- The Washington Times - Friday, April 27, 2001

Michael Jordan's weight is not the only obstacle in the way of a return to the NBA. Also looming in the distance is a mountain of legal documents.

Last year's complicated deal for Jordan to become a part owner of the Washington Wizards and Capitals required six months and nearly a dozen lawyers to complete. Undoing it would take nearly as long, say executives and other sources familiar with the deal.

NBA rules forbid players from holding equity shares in any team, meaning Jordan would need to sell his estimated 6 percent share in Lincoln Holdings LLC. Lincoln is the Ted Leonsis-led holding company for the Caps and a 44 percent share of the operating rights for the Wizards, MCI Center, Washington Mystics, the local Ticketmaster franchise and several other related businesses.

"It would be a rather involved process, and he has not come to me wanting to start anything like that," Leonsis said.

Jordan and close friend Charles Barkley have acknowledged in recent days that they are considering coming back together for the 2001-02 season and are working out to lose post-retirement poundage and return to game shape. A firm decision is not expected from the pair until at least June.

While by no means insurmountable, a Jordan comeback would require at least several key steps regarding his Lincoln equity. Foremost among them, Jordan would need to find a buyer. If the buyer is not one of the other Lincoln partners Leonsis, Proxicom Inc. chairman Raul Fernandez, local entrepreneur Jonathan Ledecky or Caps president Dick Patrick Jordan would first need to compile and distribute a detailed prospectus that outlines the company's assets, financial history and projected future earnings.

Leonsis declined to comment further on Jordan's equity, and it is not known whether he or the other Lincoln partners would be willing to purchase the shares. Ledecky, who aspires to be the lead owner of a pro team, has had his 30 percent stake in Lincoln for sale for more than two months.

Once a buyer is identified for Jordan's shares, the buyer and their attorneys would need to craft and sign the purchase agreement and then have it reviewed and approved by the NBA Board of Governors. Those steps would probably require at least six to eight weeks.

The league's timetable concerning Jordan's status as a player is not constricting at all. As a free agent, he can sign with any team with the resources and desire to have him. Neither would be a problem, as Jordan has already said a comeback would not be financially motivated, and if he doesn't commit to the Wizards, every other team will clamor for his services.

"He's a free agent," NBA spokesman Seth Sylvan said. "He's not really tied directly [to a calendar]."

The only close comparison to Jordan's situation is that of Magic Johnson. When Johnson returned to the Los Angeles Lakers in January 1996, he sold the 5 percent share in the team he held to lead owner Jerry Buss for $12 million, $1 million more than what he paid for it.

Following his second and final retirement that summer, Johnson bought the interest again from Buss for a similar amount. Johnson is now also the team's vice president.

The sale of the Lakers shares, while far more complex than the $2.5 million contract Johnson signed to play that season, still only took several weeks to complete. Jordan's situation, by comparison, is much more intricate because his equity extends to several other assets besides the basketball and hockey teams.

Jordan's share also includes options to purchase up to 14 percent more of Lincoln should the company acquire the remaining interest in the Wizards and MCI Center from current majority owner Abe Pollin. Lincoln holds the first and last rights of refusal to do so, though Pollin does not intend to sell his stake anytime soon.

"There is precedent here, so it is not impossible," said Marc Ganis, a Chicago-based sports consultant. "There are tax ramifications in divesting the interest that [Jordan] will need to sort through. But the NBA's rules and normal timetables on equity transfers are not necessarily set in stone. There is room for them to accommodate Jordan further if that's what everybody wants to do."


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