- The Washington Times - Friday, February 15, 2002

Happy birthday, MJ.

The unwanted 39 hits Sunday, in just two days.

Should Washington wear black? Is a sympathy card in order?

At least MJ no longer will see 38 attached to his name, as if his parents named him Michael Jeffrey Jordan 38.

A birthday is rarely a good thing in professional athletics, and in MJ's case, it is almost an indictment.

His age has been the equivalent of a journalistic hammer during his comeback campaign with the Wizards. He is 38, bang-bang, barely removed from support hose, dentures and biannual visits to the proctologist.

The hair goes, then the legs, and before you know it, you are reduced to shuffleboard. Or curling.

Jerry Krause, who takes it three chins at a time, became obsessed with MJ's age in 1998. He pushed MJ out the door, so the story goes, just after MJ pushed Bryon Russell and the Bulls claimed their sixth NBA championship of the '90s.

Krause was in a hurry to rebuild, and four sad sack seasons later, he remains stuck there, mired in his second or third rebuilding attempt. Other than MJ, though, who's counting?

Washington, as always, appreciates the thought from Krause.

Chicago was a lifetime ago, back when MJ could fly, and Washington has become his second home, assuming he and Juanita are able to resolve their philosophical differences and the palace in Chicago stays jointly owned. If not, Washington is not a bad place to call home, as long as you ignore the gasbags on Capitol Hill.

MJ wants his cake and icing, too, as Juanita's attorney explained it recently. Don't we all want our cake and icing, too, plus a couple of scoops of ice cream on the side?

MJ is a well-preserved 38, as it is said, and he has not pulled a Greta Van Susteren, who usually asks the tough questions. Fair is fair in the news business, so here's two for her: Who is your plastic surgeon? What is your phone number?

Yes, yes, yes. Sad to say, ours remains a sexist culture. Men are permitted a certain latitude around Father Time. Larry King appears to have been embalmed, and yet, CNN puts him on the air each weeknight. CNN, to its credit, calls the show "Larry King Live," no doubt as a courtesy to those viewers who think the host could be dead.

The NBA calculates the passage of time in dog years. You are old by your early 30s. You are a fossil by MJ's time. You are a fossil squared if you're John Stockton, who, in attempting to become the first player to draw a salary and a pension, turns 40 next month in his short shorts.

Patrick Ewing, a graduate of the exclusive Gold Club trial who left Viagra out of it, is coming up on 40 as well.

MJ has refused to act his age this season. Give him that. He has missed only one of the team's 49 games, three if you count his 5-for-26 shooting performance against the Sonics in November and his six-point outing against the Pacers in December.

Jordan merited a doctor's excuse in the beginning, notably the two broken ribs in the summer that set his conditioning back six weeks and contributed to his shaky start. He is not the MJ of old. He is not old MJ, either. The compromised version is worthy.

His birthday is merely the teeth-gnashing reminder that his playing days are limited, perhaps down to next season, whether Doug Collins and the Wizards are ready for the future or not. Richard Hamilton, the team's sweetest shooter, was not ready to impose himself on the game after the Lakers put a body to his reed-thin frame in the second half Tuesday night.

Kwame Brown, a member of the team's future who could use a few birthdays, has disappeared to the injured list, with a contagious hamstring strain.

Otherwise, MJ has done what he set out to do, what he could not do behind a desk on Fun Street. He has made the Wizards relevant in an instant.

He is entitled to make a wish in two days. That's 39 candles and one deep breath. Close your eyes.

Conveniently enough, the trading deadline follows four days after the wish.

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