- The Washington Times - Monday, January 6, 2003

Michael Jordan has not tarnished his legacy in Washington, despite the absurd claims to the contrary that sometimes surface in the national press.
He is hardly what he was, as if this ever was the issue after he announced his second return to the NBA before last season. Yet he is hardly a figure of age-induced ineffectualness who is just taking up space.
The latter is too funny, except if you are Isiah Thomas and the Pacers.
They found nothing funny in Jordan's 41-point, 12-rebound performance in 53 minutes on Fun Street Saturday night, in a keeper of a midseason game, with two overtimes and one big play after another that resulted in a 107-104 outcome in favor of the Wizards.
Go away, Michael? Right. Retire already and leave the game to the young? Right again.
If Jordan has lowered himself to "role player," the term applied to him on his return to Chicago last week, he must be a New Age "role player."
Jordan merely has demonstrated that he is as human as the next person and as susceptible to the whims of Father Time as anyone else, only he has managed the erosion in impressive fashion, in the manner of the two likeminded spirits in Utah.
On the night Jordan dumped 41 points on the Pacers, 40-year-old John Stockton had 13 assists and 39-year-old Karl Malone 33 points against the Timberwolves in Minnesota.
Jordan turns 40 years old next month in what he has said will be his last season in the NBA. He no longer flies through the air with ease. He no longer evokes paralyzing fear in opponents. Yet he remains an awfully good player who is still capable of producing head-shaking moments on the basketball floor.
He is completing an uneasy truce with a game that allowed him to become wealthy, famous and the leading shoe salesman with Nike. There has been no embarrassment in that, as the keepers of his flame would have you believe.
Jordan has had poor games, no doubt. He broke down physically last season. His role off the bench lasted only the first 15 games of the season. His team is probably not destined for anything special this season. If so, this hardly qualifies as a depressing footnote to his illustrious career.
Jordan has put up the good fight in Washington. He has taken a moribund franchise and righted it to a degree. He has rid the franchise of the overpaid clowns of the past and instilled a sense of professionalism in those impressionable players who might have gone in a different direction. Look who is around to emphasize Jordan's message: Doug Collins, Patrick Ewing and Charles Oakley.
When was the last time a member of the team was in the news because of some unfortunate situation with local law-enforcement authorities? When was the last time a member of the team claimed to be a victim of the man on the grassy knoll or the one-armed man or Mark Fuhrman?
Do you know who I am? No one with Jordan's Wizards ever feels compelled to ask that question of a police officer just before taking a roadside sobriety test.
Jordan, just by his presence on the court, has eliminated much of the nonsensical self-pity that dogged the franchise and led to Chris Webber being traded to Sacramento in 1998. How bad was it? It was so bad that Juwan Howard, with his $105million contract, used to be a source of sympathy among the local press after the faithful would boo him during one of his countless small performances.
Somehow or another, in the grand scheme of things, the vast middle class was encouraged to feel the pain of the $105million man. That was the thinking then, crazy as it was. Feel the man's pain? Please. Where can we sign up for all that pain?
Now it is about wins and losses, as it should be. You play well or you don't. You are held accountable. The faithful booed Jordan and the Wizards on the night they failed to express an interest in the Trail Blazers last month. You know what Jordan and Collins said? They concurred with the boos. They even said the fans deserved to have a money-back guarantee with that lame effort. Good for Collins and Jordan, and good for the boo-birds.
The national press inevitably fails to note these pleasant changes in the franchise, prompted by Jordan as well as Collins. More than a few NBA teams could take a cue from Jordan and the Wizards.
It is not about hanging on the rim after a dunk in the first quarter. It is not about strutting, posturing and showing your fanny. If you are such a bad man, please sign up to be a Ranger in the U.S. Army, like Pat Tillman. That goes double for Chris Mills. We need all our bad men working in commission of the new millennium's great riddle, which is: Islam is a religion of peace, and never mind Richard Reid and the fuse sticking out of his shoe.
Here's the thing: At halftime of the Wizards-Spurs game last Tuesday night, there was a group of dance-happy performers, doing all kinds of intricate routines with the basketball, legs going every which way. These guys were pretty good. You know which player came to mind? Webber, that's who. He is a dancer trapped in the body of a basketball player who should be relegated to the halftime of NBA games.
You never see Jordan doing the waltz on a basketball floor, the tango, the twist, the bump and grind. He probably has no rhythm anyway, but that is beside the point.
Jordan even has an understated way of working the referees. When he is in the mood to discuss a particular oversight by a referee, he often pulls his jersey over his mouth before speaking. This way, you see, lip-readers are foiled. Or maybe it is just a habit with Jordan. Who knows? Maybe, when he is out with friends, having dinner or whatever, he pulls his jacket lapel over his mouth before discussing the latest Hans Blix item. There is a precedent here. If you recall, Maxwell Smart used to talk through a smelly shoe.
Anyway, the keepers of Jordan's flame, many of whom have high cholesterol counts and incompetent psychotherapists, cannot resist the urge to well up in tears whenever they see the player Jordan has become.
You could argue that the player Jordan has become is almost more intriguing than the player who overwhelmed opponents with all his superior physical gifts. Jordan is all smarts now, going up against the only worthy foe in his career, the eternally undefeated Father Time. It is one heck of a contest. But never mind that.
The keepers of Jordan's flame can't help but recall the image of Willie Mays stumbling around in the outfield with the Mets. Poor Willie. The man has been stumbling around in the outfield with the Mets almost as long as Roger Maris has been losing his hair with the Yankees.
Mays has been stumbling around so long, stumbling even in his Coors commercial, tarnishing his legacy, that baseball had no choice but to expunge his 660 home runs from the book of records. The 660 home runs are now like Webber's two seasons at Michigan. They just don't exist; never happened; gone. The timeout called by Webber that his team did not have? Forget it. You imagined it.
Apparently, they can take these things away from athletes, although most athletes insist otherwise.
Most athletes, after winning a championship ring, say, "They can't take that away from me."
The athletes never identify the persons lurking in the bushes trying to take these precious goods away from them. But these unnamed criminals must be out there, hiding somewhere, just waiting for the right opportunity to strike.
It must be that way with Jordan as he goes through his second season with the Wizards.
They are planning to take away his 10 scoring titles, six NBA championships, five MVP awards and two Olympic gold medals. They also are going to take away his shot over Craig Ehlo, and upon further review, they have decided to call a foul on Jordan for his push-off maneuver against Bryon Russell in the 1998 NBA Finals. The 41 points against the Pacers? That is to be taken away as well. It is sad, so sad.
To be fair, the keepers of Jordan's flame are behaving like jilted lovers.
They always have wanted to have his children, regardless of their male biology and Jordan's busy heterosexual schedule, and now, as Jordan scores 41 points from a wheelchair, it is just not the same.
They can't resist thinking in extremes. Jordan was Superman, and now he has fallen and can't get up.
Check it out. Jordan and the Wizards are in position to make a playoff-solidifying move this month.
Jordan, in support hose or not, has a few more special nights in him. Just wait and see.

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