- The Washington Times - Friday, April 5, 2002

Michael Jordan is done, the same as the Wizards.

Their work merits a passing grade, somewhere below average, given the NBA's proclivity to reward the average.

In the end, the long-term promise of the season went undelivered, placed on the injured list along with Jordan.

There's no Jordan, no playoff berth and no high-profile free agent to pursue in the offseason.

Jordan leaves the season with two points in 12 minutes in his last game, possibly his last game ever, depending on the condition of his 39-year-old knees.

He leaves with a mixed record. There were moments of brilliance and a series of age-defying feats, plus a season-long medical watch. He was hurt at times. He was tired at other times. He was too old to be who he was. He was too skilled and smart to let it show on a consistent basis.

He scored 51 points against the Hornets in late December, then 45 points against the Nets two nights later, and then he wiped the glass clean with Ron Mercer's shot late in the game against the Bulls. That three-game stretch was his best. He also hit three game-winning shots and gave the city a local reason to follow the NBA.

Coach Doug Collins struggled with Jordan's minutes, often higher than he wanted them to be. The struggle was Jordan's as well. He wanted to be on the floor. The coach could not win that battle. The player/boss could not win it either.

Jordan was defeated by the eternally undefeated Father Time, as if there ever was a doubt. Jordan may return next season, no doubt in reduced form following a hard lesson in the aging process. The legs go first, followed by the joints and then the ability to implement what once was easy.

The NBA's 82-game schedule beats down the young and old alike. The old just lack the capacity to recover as quickly as the young. The old show their age the most on the road and in the second game of back-to-back dates.

Jordan hit the 40-point mark in five games this season, all at home, the last time against the Suns in late January. By February, the end was in sight, the medical news increasingly grim.

The Wizards defeated the Kings at home in their last game before the All-Star break to push their record to 26-21. That was the season's high point, the big tease before the fall, and what a fall it has been.

The Wizards held a 20-point lead on the Lakers in their first game after the break. Stop the season right there, with the Wizards on the road against the Lakers and up by 20 in the third quarter.

Right there, when the season looked most encouraging, it all started to go wrong for Jordan and Wizards.

The Lakers, Shaq-less though they were that night, overcame the 20-point deficit as if it were nothing more than a triviality.

Kobe Bryant finished with a triple-double, Jordan with 22 hard-earned points. It was clear the new legend had eclipsed the old legend. It was not clear what had happened to the Wizards. It only became clear in the weeks ahead, as the losses mounted and Jordan ended up on a surgeon's table.

The Wizards have an 8-20 record since the All-Star break, and just seven games to complete before the offseason.

They could have been there, in the first round of the playoffs, going against one of the junior varsity contingents of the Eastern Conference.

Once there, it was not too hard to imagine Jordan and the Wizards imposing themselves on what passes as the competent in the East.

It won't be now. It can't be.

What was is not what is.

Jordan left the game in 1998 with his sixth NBA championship after sinking the series-ending shot on Utah's Bryon Russell.

This time, he checks out with a body that betrayed him, no easy solutions in the offseason and two points in 12 minutes in his last game.

This time, for the first time in his basketball career, he checks out empty-handed, on the outside, and down to the last ticks of his athletic clock.

He did not fail this season. He did not succeed either.

He gave it a run, even a good run, until he no longer could ignore the frailty of being human.

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