- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 23, 2001

Michael Jordan, preparing for a possible comeback to the NBA, is proceeding quickly with plans to divest his equity in the Washington Wizards.

In a plan discussed in depth last week between NBA commissioner David Stern, Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis and Jordan advisers, the 10-time league scoring champion and Wizards team president would sell his estimated 6 percent interest in Lincoln Holdings LLC back to chairman Leonsis.

NBA rules prohibit players from owning shares in any team, and Lincoln equity includes full ownership of the Caps, as well as 44 percent of the Wizards, MCI Center and related assets now controlled by Abe Pollin. Because of the league rule, as well as the mountain of paperwork and tax ramifications any transfer of Jordan's shares would entail, the equity discussions have taken on greater importance and frequency.

The plan, still in its formative stages, would be set into full motion should Jordan commit to a comeback. A decision is expected in three to four weeks.

"Needless to say, we have been exploring all of my options surrounding my possible return to playing," Jordan said. "This is all still up in the air right now, but if I come back [the equity] is a situation that has to be addressed."

The equity discussions were first reported in yesterday's New York Post. Leonsis characterized the newspaper's report as grossly inaccurate and declined to comment further. But several league sources said the meetings between the parties have been ongoing for a few weeks.

On the court, Jordan is conducting a private camp in Chicago with numerous NBA stars to gauge his ability and endurance. Jordan, who has struggled with injuries to his ribs, back and knees, said Tuesday he is not yet in NBA game shape.

"I'm still sticking to my mid-September deadline [to announce a decision], period," Jordan said. "That won't change. I'm in the process of doing my most crucial evaluation on where I stand and if I can do this."

Though a rare occurrence for a team shareholder to return to the court, it happened in 1996 when Magic Johnson departed the Los Angeles Lakers' front office for a brief comeback. Johnson sold his 5 percent share to majority owner Jerry Buss for $12 million, $1 million more than he paid for it, and repurchased it later that year for a similar amount.

The Jordan situation would be similar because Leonsis is the one who brought Jordan into Lincoln Holdings in January 2000. Jordan's equity, however, is much more complex than Johnson's because it touches numerous businesses beyond the Wizards. The deal to bring in Jordan took six months to complete, and Leonsis said earlier this year that undoing it to facilitate a comeback would take nearly as long.

Thus, attorneys for the NBA, Jordan and Leonsis are hard at work on the issue so that if Jordan does return, it can be in time for the 2001-02 season opener on Oct. 30 in New York. Having Leonsis buy the shares will expedite the process because it relieves Jordan and his advisers from having to identify qualified outside bids and issue a financial prospectus.

Any transfer of Jordan's equity, however, still would need approval by the NBA Board of Governors.

Spokesmen for the NBA and SFX Sports, which represents Jordan, declined to comment yesterday.

Notes Shooting guard Richard Hamilton, a Wizards regular at the MCI practice center this summer, suffered a broken nose recently in a scrimmage. Hamiliton will not miss any of training camp (beginning Oct. 2) because of the injury… . Top pick Kwame Brown is in Chicago but is not attending Jordan's private workouts.

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