- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 2, 2001

Michael Jordan couldn't deal with ending his 13-year, championship ring-encrusted career as a player on anyone else's terms.
Yesterday, for the first time since his second return to the NBA, Jordan made it perfectly clear that playing again, at the age of 38, was not a choice but a compulsion.
"It's an itch that still needs to be scratched here, and I don't want that itch to bother me for the rest of my life," Jordan said yesterday at an MCI Center news conference, where he made his first public statements since ending his three-year retirement last week to play for the Washington Wizards. "When I left the game I left something on the floor. You guys might not be able to understand that."
Jordan, the former president of basketball operations and part owner of the Wizards, retired before the lockout-shortened 1999 season. Jordan's old team, the Chicago Bulls, was dismantled by ownership following the 1997-98 season, prompting Jordan's retirement. At that time Jordan said he was at peace with his decision, and he joined the Wizards in 2000.
Yesterday, however, Jordan, said he had left the game too soon for the second time. Jordan retired from the NBA after the 1992-93 season and tried his hand at minor league baseball before returning in 1995 to lead the Bulls to three more championships.
"I want to make sure that I never, ever regret that decision," Jordan said.
Wizards shooting guard Richard Hamilton, the team's leading returning scorer, is happy about Jordan's decision.
"Can you imagine what it's like to have that kind of ammunition on the team?" said Hamilton, who averaged 18.1 points. "This is the most excited I've ever been about playing basketball."
Conversations earlier this year with golfing buddy Mario Lemieux, player-owner of the Pittsburgh Penguins, sparked Jordan's desire to return again. Lemieux, 35, made a successful return to the NHL after battling Hodgkin's Disease.
"I guess I got the notion listening to Mario. That actually kick-started everything," Jordan said. "I really didn't get the notion that I could play or that I wanted to play until the season was over and I started working out with some of the NBA players."
When Jordan returned to the Chicago Bulls in 1995, he was 32, and the nucleus of that team which included Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman was still in place.
The Wizards, however, are coming off their worst season ever at 19-63, and even Jordan warns that expectations for the Wizards who open training camp today in Wilmington, N.C., won't be that high.
"I'm not coming in here with these preconceived ideas that we're going to be 50-32. I'd be totally surprised if we were 50-32. But I think we can be far better than 19-63," Jordan said.
Jordan, who will play mostly at small forward, said he was uncertain of his status as the summer progressed. Breaking a pair of ribs and battling tendinitis created some doubt whether he could pull off a comeback at his standards. His 31.5 scoring average is the highest in league history, and his 10 scoring titles are a league best. In addition to leading the Bulls to six championships, he was regular-season MVP five times and NBA Finals MVP six times.
But eventually Jordan began to see the elements of his game that separated him from his peers.
"The things that I was looking for was a sense of dominance in situations, taking control in pickup games, if that can be any indication," Jordan said. "I wanted to see if I could get some of my moves off against players in the league and maintain some of my consistency and was able to score whenever I felt like I needed to score.
"I was looking for signs that would give me an indication that would make this thing work," Jordan continued. "And although I didn't see them consistently every single day, I was asking my body to do something that you haven't done for three years."
Much has been made about how the older Jordan will fare against younger superstars like Allen Iverson, Kobe Bryant and Tracy McGrady. When Jordan retired in 1998, none was a true force in the league. Since that time, Iverson was named MVP and led Philadelphia to the finals, Bryant has helped lead the Lakers to two titles and Orlando's McGrady, just 22, demonstrated last season that he might have more potential than any player in the league.
"You say all the young dogs are going to chase me around. Well, I'm not going to bark too far away from them either," Jordan said. "I'm not running from nobody. If anything it's going to be a great challenge. I'm not walking into this scenario thinking that I'm going to fail. I'm walking in confident that I think it will work. And if I listened to everyone who said I couldn't make it work, then obviously I wouldn't be here."

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