- The Washington Times - Monday, May 12, 2003

The Wizards need a strategy to move beyond the Michael Jordan fallout.

Abe Pollin and Susan O’Malley cannot sit back and hope it all goes away, because it will not go away.

The post-Jordan Bulls are an instructive guide.

Hard as they tried, the Two Jerrys, Reinsdorf and Krause, could not undo the perception that they somehow were unfair to Jordan. It haunted them each time they tried to tap into the free agent market.

Jordan played the victim in Chicago, and now he is playing the victim again in Washington, and his associates are certain to sound the refrain as often as Jordan deems necessary in the weeks, months and years ahead.

Imagine how the tale of the parting is going to be told in NBA locker rooms and in informal conversations by the deal-making suits who have a vested interest in feeling Jordan’s pain. Imagine how it will be if Jordan, wherever he lands, and the Wizards share an interest in the same free agent.

Imagine how the public is going to react to the weight of all this and to what promises to be a tedious rebuilding project next season.

The public already is speaking to the franchise by telephone, letting it know that a team without Jordan is not a team worth supporting.

This attitude, fair or not, is not apt to dissipate unless the team’s front office goes to work to counter it.

This is not 1980. This is the age of the Internet, the satellite dish and the 24/7 news cycle. Anyone with a Web site is a publisher. Anyone with an axe to grind can record their views on one of the many Internet fan sites. Anyone can call the popular sports mavens on local talk radio and vent a spleen.

Pollin does not play this game, of course.

He is from a distant time, perhaps too distant in these up-front, in-your-face times.

Pollin is the antithesis of Mark Cuban, who respects the power of the new information medium and embraces it with all his energy. Cuban does not always get it right, but that is not the point. He is in the game, available to all, pushing his agenda, which is the point.

Sports owners ignore the new information medium at their own peril. If they employ 1980 marketing techniques in 2003, they should not be overly surprised if the egalitarian marketplace of 2003 chews up their message and spits it back out in unrecognizable form.

Pollin’s organization already is living with the limitations of its old-school tactics. The organization, prior to the firing of Jordan, solicited the forum of the far-left organ in New York City to shape the debate of the impending maneuver while covering its tracks from David Falk’s spies.

Notice how the attempt was silenced by all the voices on talk radio and television and the Internet after Jordan drove away from Fun Street. In the end, the Wizards waved a six-shooter against Jordan’s tank, with predictable results. Pollin and the franchise have taken a public relations beating.

In the days ahead, Pollin and associates might want to join the new millennium and start putting their vision before the public to demonstrate that, like it or not, there is going to be basketball life after Jordan.

Ted Leonsis, who started out with the Caps as the most accessible owner in professional sports, is now hiding out at undisclosed locations with Dick Cheney, trying to recover from the one-two punch of a first-round playoff exit in hockey and the ouster of Jordan without his approval.

There is a higher priority, notably the building in Tony Cheng’s neighborhood that has become one of the jewels in the city.

The action inside the building rarely works out the way everyone wants, but here’s the thing: It could be a lot worse, and the higher-ups with Washington Sports and Entertainment are flirting with that prospect following Jordan’s dismissal.

Haven’t they heard?

Jordan does not forget even the smallest slights, so they might as well expect the worst with this assault to his ego. They ought to assume he’ll use all his public-relations acumen and power to subvert the Wizards.

We’ll never know if Jordan, deep down, really wanted to return to the Wizards as an executive. Something about the process suggests Jordan was expecting to begin negotiations last Wednesday and play it out in the public eye for a few weeks before reaching a decision.

We do know that sitting back and thinking it eventually will go away is not the answer against Jordan.

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