- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 25, 2002

Michael Jordan will play again this season for the Washington Wizards and could announce his decision as soon as this weekend, The Washington Times has learned.

A knee injury cut short Jordan's comeback last season, and it has been uncertain whether he would retire or return for the start of training camp next week to prepare for his 15th NBA season.

Jordan has declined to comment about his future with the exception of two interviews one with ESPN, the other in yesterday's editions of the Chicago Sun-Times since a knee injury on April2 ended his comeback at 60 games.

"Love of the game," Jordan told the Sun-Times on Monday. "I'll play as long as I love the game of basketball. I don't believe it myself sometimes that I'm still playing. I never thought I'd play again. But I still love the game."

Jordan's comments on Monday were the strongest indication yet that he would play this season, and sources confirmed to The Washington Times yesterday that he would return.

Jordan declined to comment yesterday.

Jordan, who injured his left knee and required surgery last season, said he would honor the final year of his contract if he felt confident that he would be able to compete at a high level and not have to worry about the health of his knees. Last season, despite his injuries, Jordan still led the Wizards in scoring (22.9) and assists (5.2). And his presence alone helped Washington improve from a franchise-worst 19-63 to last season's more respectable 37-45.

The Wizards denied having any knowledge of Jordan's intentions regarding his comeback for a final year.

"We haven't been notified in any way regarding Michael's plan," said team spokesman Matt Williams. "He said he would play if his knees were healthy."

However, sources indicated yesterday that Jordan's health is much better than it was last season. Once source said that Jordan's knee problems likely came from his arduous workouts last season as he tried to scale his weight down from a lifetime high of 240 pounds to his playing weight of 215. He also opted against precautionary offseason surgery on his left knee, a good sign that he is healthy, said the source.

Jordan, who is expected to return to the Washington area today, never put on any weight following the end of his season last spring, thus he was not required to lose so much like last year. Jordan, according to a source, is believed to be "lean and weighing around 210 pounds."

About four weeks ago, Jordan was fitted with a shoe insert to relieve pressure on his right knee.

Jordan's role this year is presumed to be that of a reserve, which is how he spent the final seven games of last season.

The Wizards' front office denies any knowledge of Jordan's decision. Jordan instructed general manager Wes Unseld and coach Doug Collins to build the team as if Jordan will not play, and to their credit they have had a superlative offseason.

It began with drafting Jared Jeffries and Juan Dixon, and culminated two weeks ago with the trade of Richard Hamilton to the Detroit Pistons for Jerry Stackhouse in a six-man deal. The Wizards also acquitted themselves well on the free-agent market, gaining starters at point guard and small forward with the acquisitions of Larry Hughes from Golden State and Bryon Russell from the Utah Jazz.

"The one thing we tried to do was to do everything in our power to better the team with the idea that [Jordan] was not going to be playing," Collins said.

"If he does play, I think we have the guys on this team who are going to make his job a lot easier. Last year it wore on him with the minutes. Our goal was to get better with better talent so that if he did play it would make his life easier."

To preserve his knees, the Wizards likely will use Jordan in a limited role during preseason games. Washington opens the preseason on Oct.10 against the Philadelphia 76ers at MCI Center. Jordan will use training camp, which begins Oct.1 in Wilmington, N.C., to get in shape.

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