- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 21, 2002

Michael Jordan is up against two bad knees and a 40th birthday.
His indecision, to play or not, is in recognition of the obvious.
Fortunately, there was a doctor in Jordan's vicinity on ESPN's "SportsCenter," if Dr.Jack Ramsay counts. It beat having the other Dr. Jack around, considering the handiwork of Dr. Kevorkian.
Jordan has relegated his career to "a last-minute decision," whatever that means in Jordan time. The last wait ended Oct.1, by inference "a next-to-last-minute decision." The uncertainty qualifies as a bet among those trying to decide whether to renew their season tickets.
Washington burns under the August sun, while the supporters of the Wizards twiddle their thumbs again.
Try to be cool and take hope in a footnote: Jordan's two-point parting against the Zen master-led Lakers last season. That is possibly it, the final bow? Hard to believe, and harder to accept if Jordan retires to the owner's suite and the Wizards are left to the devices of Richard Hamilton, Etan Thomas and Brendan Haywood.
Jordan in uniform remains the team's door prize, Kwame Brown in a pique the unappealing alternative. Jordan is a stronger player than educator, judging by Brown's shaky progress. As the team's pet project, Brown has been resistant to the Jordan lesson plan. The next weight Brown lifts will be his first, which is a peculiar claim of someone so young, tall and fragile near the basket.
A 6-foot-11 post player who favors jumpers from the foul line was not the idea that resulted in Brown being the No.1 pick overall in the 2001 draft. One of those on a team is enough, in this case Christian Laettner.
"Obviously, as a seasoned vet, I may have put too much pressure on Kwame to excel quickly because of the expectations that we all have for him,'' Jordan told Dr.Jack.
The indictment extends to coach Doug Collins, the recovering NBC analyst who, by habit in the beginning, spared no one on the Wizards, with the exception of Jordan. Collins resisted the urge to cry but not talk aloud. The talking was therapeutic after the Wizards dropped nine of their first 11 games of the season. The Wizards finished with a 37-45 record, and their dignity, although it was mostly because of Jordan's reluctance to act his age.
The absence of a quality contingent in the Eastern Conference is undoubtedly a factor in Jordan's evaluations. The uplifting tale of the Nets last season was nearly spoiled by the underachieving Pacers in the first round of the playoffs.
This followed the pattern of the conference since the conclusion of the second incarnation of Jordan in 1998. The Knicks ascended from the eighth seed to the NBA Finals in 1999, the Pacers followed in 2000 after barely averting the Bucks and the 76ers followed in 2001 after clutching their hearts on Vince Carter's last-second jump shot.
As an equal-opportunity circuit, the conference begs a sturdier Jordan to make one last stand with the Wizards. The Wizards would have as much right to believe as the next pretender. The last one, the Nets, managed to overcome the glut of mediocrity following a 26-56 season.
As it is, the Wizards are built to please those opponents who like the rough stuff in the three-second lane. Their offense comes from the outside, their defense from working the 24-second shot clock. Their margin for error is slight at best, unaddressed by the acquisition of Larry Hughes and an untested rookie class.
Jordan appeared in 60 games last season, counting as many as 20 games in which he was limited to one knee or less. His half almost made a whole by the grim standards of Fun Street. The Wizards held a 26-21 record at the All-Star break and the genuine prospect of a playoff berth.
Then Jordan broke down, as did the team, hastened perhaps by a well-documented offseason built on long hours in the gym. Jordan has curtailed his workload this summer to minimize the wear on his knees. His obsession with the stationary bicycle is about to be replaced by the need to know on a basketball floor.
"This is the month where I really have to start to move forward with my playing activity and my back-to-back days of playing," he said.
Jordan then will put his ears to his knees and see what they reveal. His head is still in the game. His heart, too. And his business is unfinished. The decision is clear if the knees are remotely cooperative.
If not, the winter promises to be long.
Jordan either plays again or the Wizards grow at a pace that elicits a cry to be patient behind gnashing of teeth.


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