- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 4, 2002

MILWAUKEE The Michael Jordan watch, slated for this summer, began yesterday when swelling in Jordan's right knee forced him onto the injured list and officially ended his season.
Jordan, who flew with the team to Milwaukee for last night's crucial game against the Bucks, experienced inflammation and pain early yesterday morning in the knee that was operated on Feb. 27. Later in the day, he decided it was best to end his season with hopes of returning to play next season.
"I think it is best at this point to rest the knee and let it heal properly," Jordan said in a statement issued by the team. "I tried to get back and play as soon as possible and, early on, the knee responded well. But after the swelling this morning, I think it's best to give it a rest."
Jordan has retired twice from the NBA. He retired following the 1993 season after the Chicago Bulls won their third championship. He returned to lead the Bulls to three more championships before retiring in 1999.
Jordan, who signed a two-year contract with the Wizards, said recently that his return next season for what would almost certainly would be his final one was contingent on how well both of his knees responded this summer. Jordan already has said he will have arthroscopic surgery on his left knee, which is not bothering him now but was wracked with tendinitis early in the season.
As of yesterday, it was not known whether another surgical procedure would be required on his right knee. However, Jordan, who was not available for comment, said in the statement that he fully intends to play next season.
"I signed a two-year contract to play," he said. "Obviously, my health will always determine my playing status, but at this time, my plan is to play next season."
Jordan appeared in 60 games this season and averaged 22.9 points. The only time the career 31.5 scorer averaged less was in an injury-shortened 1985-86 season, when he averaged 22.7 points in 18 games.
In the end, it probably was Jordan's unrelenting desire to play that proved to be his downfall. When Jordan had the surgery to repair torn cartilage in his knee, it was anticipated that he could possibly miss four to six weeks. However, he missed just 12 games and returned to the team March 20, approximately three weeks after the operation.
"The surgery was successful, but I think Michael realizes he pushed the envelope trying to come back too quickly," coach Doug Collins said. "Last night before the game [against the Lakers], I went in to see him and I could see that his knee was visibly swollen. I didn't even want him to play last night.
"Michael, being the competitor that he is, said, 'I want to give it a roll.' I said, 'OK.' He played 12 minutes and I told him if we get back in the game at all in the third quarter, maybe we'll play it. If not, let's just take the rest of the night off. If Michael doesn't fight you, you know that he's hurt."
The Wizards began the night 2 games out of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with eight games remaining in the regular season. Six are against potential playoff teams, making Washington a long shot to make the postseason for the first time since 1997.
And if the Wizards do fail to make the playoffs, this will mark the first time in Jordan's 14 seasons that his team has done so.
With Jordan out of the lineup, the Wizards went 4-8 and appeared to be slipping out of the playoff race. When he returned, there were whispers that Jordan had come back too early. And Collins made it a point to bring Jordan off the bench and play him far less than the 34 to 36 minutes he had logged for most of the season.
In the seven games after his return, Jordan's performances varied from one extreme to the other. Five games into his return, Jordan went for 34 points against the Bucks on March 29 in a 110-103 victory. However, against the Lakers, he logged career lows in points (two) and minutes played (12). In that game Jordan for the first time this season wore a therapeutic sleeve designed to increase circulation in his right knee.
Some of the Wizards found out that Jordan's season was finished only as they arrived at Bradley Center for last night's game. Most of the players tried to remain optimistic about the road ahead.
"We have to win as many as we can so that we can make it into the playoffs regardless of who plays with us, who's here and who's not here," forward Christian Laettner said. "Does it make it a little harder? Yeah, because Mike's a great player, and he helps in a lot of ways. But it's been a miracle that he's played this long and this hard and as well as he did this year. He's 39 years old, on top of all of that. How many people would be able to play at the level that he did at 39?"
Regardless of whether the Wizards reach the playoffs, it is hard to imagine Jordan leaving the game like this. But yesterday, as it will be for the foreseeable future, that decision remained up in the air.
"I would be very surprised if he came back," Laettner said. "But I won't be surprised if he says his knees feel good. If his knees feel good, he'll probably do it."

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