- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 16, 2003

Michael Jordan never thought it would end like this.
No playoffs, a five-game home losing streak to close the season and losses in 15 of his team's last 23 games.
A rambling diatribe at his last home game by his hand-picked coach directed at players Jordan himself thought were the right pieces of the puzzle, a jumble that has kept the Washington Wizards out of the playoffs in all but one of the last 16 seasons.
But at long last, after 15 seasons of sporting and advertising greatness the likes of which may never be duplicated, Jordan will play his last game tonight in Philadelphia.
Rather than the end, Jordan views this as a beginning for himself and the Washington Wizards, the organization he wants to lead forward.
"I'm going to look back and say that it was fun but yet it was something that no other GM or president of basketball operations could do," Jordan said of ending his second retirement after three years to return as a player for the last two. "That's a special position. And hopefully I can use it to my advantage to help this franchise."
Jordan, who stepped out of the front office as president of basketball operations with the Wizards in the fall of 2001, did so because he believed he could be of more help on the court to a struggling team coming off a franchise-low 19 wins.
By ending his tenure as a team executive and minority owner that began when he joined the franchise Jan.19, 2000, Jordan embarked upon what some thought would be his greatest challenge: turning around the Wizards.
In each of his two seasons as a player, Jordan failed to lead the Wizards to the playoffs, though his 2001-02 season was cut to 60 games because of nagging knee problems. In that season, the Wizards won 37 games, a mark they will duplicate this season unless they defeat a 76ers team still jockeying to improve its playoff positioning.
But to judge Jordan's tenure as a player with the Wizards on the here and now is a mistake.
"I don't think you can," Wizards general manger Wes Unseld said. "I think you'll find that out next year. I think that's the only way to figure it out. But I didn't think that Mike would take us to the playoffs. I figured that it would take more than one individual. I don't know where we got into Michael taking us anywhere. It was always going to be what the team did to help Michael take us to the playoffs.
"I think what you can say is that he obviously draws a lot of attention," Unseld continued, pointing out the Wizards' rank as the league's top draw in Jordan's two seasons. "He's been a great role model as far as any player could be. He's shown our guys how to conduct themselves both on and off the court, and he's showed a lot of guys how to maximize opportunities."
Jordan's greatness first came to national attention when he hit the game-winning shot in the NCAA title game for North Carolina as a freshman in 1982.
Drafted in 1984 by Chicago after being passed over by both Houston and Portland, Jordan went on to lead the Bulls to six championships. In the process he set a record by leading the NBA in scoring 10 times and was named MVP of the finals six times and league MVP five times. He retires as the NBA's leader in scoring average in both the playoffs (33.4) and regular season (30.2)
Even at 40, Jordan's points (20.1), rebounds (6.1) and assists (3.8) aren't that far off from 2004 Olympian Ray Allen (22.6 points, 5.0 rebounds, 4.4 assists), a player 12 years his junior.
"That's the type of stuff that makes him the greatest player we've ever seen," Collins said.
So much so that some players can't figure out why Jordan, who Fortune Magazine estimates has pumped more than $10 billion into the economy, is retiring.
"Why should he?" Atlanta Hawks reserve forward Darvin Ham asked. "Look at him. He's still one of the 25 best players in the world."
He might be. But when the buzzer goes off at the end of tonight's game at the First Union Center, Jordan's career 13 seasons in Chicago, two here as a player will be finished.
"One-hundred percent. It's time," Jordan said, adding that the two seasons in Washington went stunningly quick. "But I'll look back and be grateful for everything. All the memories, all the practices, the camaraderie with the younger players. It's been so much fun."
That it has.

Note Unseld said yesterday he believed second-year forward Kwame Brown received an unfair portion of the blame for the Wizards' failure to make the playoffs.
"Every team has some issues," Unseld said. "I didn't know it was to that degree until yesterday. I will say that you can't lay any of this all at the feet of one individual. That's ridiculous."
Unseld was talking about Collins' postgame diatribe Monday at MCI Center in which Collins said the level of disrespect directed toward him by some players this season was insidious."
Collins did not single out Brown on Monday, but Brown has cursed Collins more than once during games this season.



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