- The Washington Times - Monday, September 24, 2001

Michael Jordan, arguably the most recognizable face on the planet and the most famous athlete in American history, will end his three-year retirement today and at 38 attempt a comeback to the NBA as a member of the Washington Wizards, a league source confirmed yesterday.

Jordan, the Wizards president of basketball operations, was unavailable for comment yesterday. However, the Wizards are likely to provide confirmation of his return today, most likely in the form of a press release.

The source would not say how long Jordan intends to play in the league he dominated during the previous decade, but in an interview with the Associated Press earlier this month Jordan indicated that he would like to play for at least two seasons.

Jordan's decision will mix this era's most successful athlete, both on the court and with advertisers it's been estimated that he has generated $10 billion in the economy with a professional franchise that has seldom risen above laughingstock in the last 20 years.

During a 13-year career with the Chicago Bulls that began in 1984, Jordan won 10 scoring titles, three more than any player in league history. His 31.5-point average is the highest in league history and he ranks third all time in career points (29,277). Jordan also won five league MVP awards and was named NBA Finals MVP six times.

The Wizards, on the other hand, have reached the playoffs just once in the last 14 seasons. Last year they won just 19 games. Doug Collins is the team's fifth coach since the spring of 1998.

Jordan's decision ends months of speculation that began last spring when rumors of an attempted comeback at the time he was supposed to be accompanied by future Hall-of-Famer Charles Barkley began to circulate. Jordan, who led the Bulls to six NBA titles from 1991 to '98, never denied those rumors, but maintained on most occasions that he was "99.9" percent sure that he would not return to the NBA.

However, it became apparent over the summer that Jordan, one of the most competitive athletes ever, was indeed attempting a comeback. And as media scrutiny intensified, he ultimately admitted as much.

Jordan became sidetracked during the summer when he suffered a pair of broken ribs that stalled his comeback efforts for almost four weeks. Jordan returned to workouts in mid-July, joining the Wizards' rookies and free agents in a minicamp at MCI Center.

Since then, Jordan's comeback attempt had been publicly questioned by no less than his Chicago-based personal trainer, Tim Grover. And last month, Jordan wanted to test his readiness against the NBA's elite so he requested that the players who make up the league's new hierarchy Vince Carter, Kobe Bryant and Allen Iverson join him for workouts at Hoops Gym in Chicago. None of them showed up.

As result, Jordan was forced to gauge himself against second-tier talent such as former Wizard Juwan Howard, Boston's Antoine Davis, Miami's Tim Hardaway and Phoenix's Penny Hardaway.

Prior to the camp, Jordan said he would reveal his intentions by the middle of September. However, in light of the recent terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Jordan canceled a news conference scheduled for Sept. 20 at which he planned to announce his decision.

Jordan, who also retired from basketball in 1993 in order to play minor league baseball and then returned in 1995 to lead the Bulls to three more championships, joined the Wizards front office as part owner and president of basketball operations in January of 1999.

As a member of Lincoln Holdings, Jordan is believed to have purchased between 5 and 10 percent of the Wizards. It is against NBA rules for an owner to play in the league. However, it is believed that Jordan has sold his minority share in the Wizards to Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis, which will make Jordan's transition back to the league a painless legal procedure. Leonsis owned a larger share of the Wizards than did Jordan from the outset. Abe Pollin is the Wizards majority owner.

Jordan, who last year earned a reported $40 million from advertising alone, will sign with the Wizards for the veteran minimum of $1 million.

As an executive Jordan made several impressive moves. He rid the team of Howard's cumbersome contract by trading him to Dallas last season which helped the team trim its payroll of about $17 million over the next three seasons. He also saved the team money by buying out problematic point guard Rod Strickland and aging guard Mitch Richmond.

Also under Jordan, the Wizards won the draft lottery this year and for the first time in team history had the top pick in the draft. That pick became Kwame Brown, the first player to be selected with the top pick directly out of high school.

But the passion for competition never subsided in Jordan. And now, when the team opens training camp in his hometown of Wilmington, N.C., next week, Jordan will be wearing his familiar 23 once again. Only this time it will be as a member of the Washington Wizards.

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