- The Washington Times - Friday, September 7, 2001

Will he or won't he?

Whether or not Michael Jordan will end his retirement later this month has become the most intriguing question in sports. Jordan has set a mid-September deadline to announce his decision, and this is the topic of discussion at water coolers everywhere.

If the 38-year-old president of basketball operations for the Washington Wizards returns, almost everyone stands to benefit. The NBA, with slumping television ratings since Jordan's 1998 retirement, would experience a resurgence. And the Wizards, playoff participants just once in the last 14 years and winners of just 19 games last season, would become one of the top draws on the road and turn MCI Center into the place to be during the season.

Jordan is used to this type of attention, having won six championships with the Chicago Bulls and, three years removed from playing, still earning about $40 million in endorsements.

But a Jordan return would thrust Wizards players into a unique and unfamiliar situation. Beginning in training camp next month in Wilmington, N.C., they would have more media attention and be under more scrutiny than they could ever imagine. And with Jordan's decision due in just more than a week, the players are starting to seriously consider what it might be like.

"I've been thinking about it, but I usually think about it in terms of coming down on the break, looking to one side and seeing Mike over there," said point guard Chris Whitney, who would no doubt see his assists rise from the 4.2 he averaged last season.

While Whitney said he does not dwell on the possibility of Jordan suiting up for the Wizards this season, the media's constant reminders that Jordan's decision is imminent prompt him to daydream.

"We're all aware that he's getting ready to make a decision, and we know that what he decides could change everything around here," Whitney said. "But you can't think about it like that. Right now he hasn't said what he's going to do. But when you stop thinking about it the media brings it right back up again."

Jordan is back in the area for now, having returned from Chicago. He is working closely with the coaching staff and front office as the team prepares for training camp. Jordan was unavailable for comment yesterday but earlier in the summer coach Doug Collins said Jordan had advised him to proceed in his preparations as if he were not going to play this season.

Since breaking his ribs in June, there has been speculation that Jordan has lost crucial conditioning time needed for a successful comeback. To speed up his training, Jordan reportedly invited NBA luminaries such as Philadelphia's Allen Iverson, Toronto's Vince Carter and the Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant to work out with him in Chicago for two weeks so that he might be able to gauge his readiness to play an 82-game season.

None of the above-mentioned attended the workouts, but two Wizards, second-year guard Courtney Alexander and rookie forward Bobby Simmons, did.

Said Simmons: "He never, ever looked like he was 38; he looked like he could still do everything that he did before he retired."

This is a direct contradiction to some of the quotes originating from the two-week camp in Chicago, that featured players such as former Wizard Juwan Howard, the Boston Celtics' Antoine Walker, Dallas guard Michael Finley and Phoenix guard Penny Hardaway. Sworn to secrecy, one player who chose to remain anonymous told the Associated Press that Jordan "looked like garbage."

"Garbage?" Alexander said, "I don't think so."

An emerging star at shooting guard last season, Alexander acknowledged that a Jordan return would be special. But he added that if Jordan decides against returning it would be for the right reasons.

"We all want to play alongside Michael Jordan," Alexander said. "Every player my age grew up admiring Michael as the greatest player we've ever seen. But I don't think I'd be disappointed if he didn't return. I think it would be selfish on my part to say that I wanted to see him play just so I could play with him. You think about it, of course. But Michael is going to make a decision based on what benefits the team and the organization."

But does he have any insight on what that decision might be?

"None whatsoever," Alexander said. "I'm waiting just like everyone else."

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