- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 7, 2002

First there was "I'm back." Then there was "the itch" that needed to be scratched.
With Michael Jordan's playing status again in significant question, the thousands of companies economically dependent on No.23 are waiting and hoping for another clever comeback announcement.
Or any kind of announcement that involves Jordan playing next year.
The Washington Wizards, 35-42 after last night's game against Memphis, most likely will miss the playoffs for the 13th time in 14 years. Despite many moments of brilliance, the Michael Jordan of 2001-02 was slower and far more mortal than the Jordan of years past.
But the Michael Jordan economic stimulus package performed precisely as expected, and the benefits were widely felt. Wizards attendance at MCI Center surged 32 percent. Every road game sold out except for one at Golden State in which Jordan didn't play. Local TV ratings more than quintupled. Chinatown businesses finally enjoyed the benefits from steady sellouts at the arena, something expected when MCI Center opened in 1997 and never realized. Nike successfully released another Jordan signature shoe. Wizards jersey sales vaulted from the bottom third among NBA teams to the top 10.
So it easily stands to reason that these businesses, many just now recovering from September 11, are not embracing the prospect of no more Jordan.
"There is definitely angst. We're all a bit nervous," said David Greenberg, managing partner of the District Chophouse & Brewery on Seventh Street NW, which has seen revenues on Wizards game nights increase more than 45 percent over last season. "The Michael Jordan effect was and is very real and very significant. It is absolute reality."
As of now, Jordan intends to return for the final season of his two-year contract with the Wizards. But in more than half of the 60 games Jordan played this season, he experienced serious pain in his knees. By the end, he was constantly in pain, and arthroscopic surgery on the right knee failed to have the desired immediate effect. He needed to ride an exercise bike and reloosen the knees just to check back into games.
No one questions Jordan's desire or work ethic. Nobody questions the power of Father Time, either, certainly not when Jordan would turn 40 during next season. That has led several parties fiscally tied to Jordan to begin looking ahead at life without him.
"We'd love to have him back. There's obviously no question he helped greatly to elevate the profile of our network," said Sam Schroeder, general manager of Comcast SportsNet. "But whether he comes back or not, he's left behind a legacy of helping introduce the fans to Kwame Brown, Richard Hamilton and the rest of the team. We need to be prepared either way, and we will be."
One thing is already certain: Jordan has elevated the value of the Wizards franchise. Several months ago Forbes estimated the team's value at $214million, 14th best in the NBA, using numbers from the 2000-01 season. Forbes editor Michael Ozanian projects the updated figure, using the current season's fiscal success, at $225 million.
"There's no question [Jordan] has had a definite and meaningful impact on the team's value," Ozanian said. "The question now is how much it holds. If he doesn't come back and the Wizards don't stay something of a respectable NBA team, we'll see revenues and the team value go back down."
Meanwhile, season ticket-holders who correctly gambled last summer that Jordan would return and laid down their money before he committed to play will need to gamble again. Team officials say their typical timetable for paying for the tickets first deposits by early summer, full payments by early fall likely will be repeated.
"It could come down to the last minute again," Wizards spokesman Matt Williams said. "Last year Michael's announcement was actually after the deadline to keep your seats [from the previous season]. It all depends on what Michael decides. He has a lot of options in front of him."
Within basketball circles, questions remain whether Jordan's return to the court, regardless of whether it extends into next year, will harm the franchise in the long run by stunting the growth of the other players.
The Wizards' business partners don't agree, at least as it pertains to their situations.
"If he doesn't play next year, yeah, there will be a drop back off [in the ratings]," Schroeder said. "But the ratings should be way, way better than if he hadn't played here at all."
Greenberg concurs, saying, "I shudder to think what would have happened around here without this comeback. You see all this activity and development up and down Seventh [Street], and most of it probably would have happened anyway. But certainly not with any of the urgency you now see."

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