- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 8, 2003

At long last, Michael Jordan’s future — which he says he wants to continue with the Washington Wizards — should become much clearer following a meeting with majority owner Abe Pollin today.”His plans have always been to return to the team’s front office when he finished playing,” a source close to Jordan said yesterday. “If there’s anything I know about Michael Jordan, it’s that he doesn’t like to walk away from anything that’s unfinished. He sees the Wizards as being just that.”Repeated attempts to reach Jordan have been unsuccessful. Through his spokesman, Matt Williams, Pollin has refused comment.Recent reports have surfaced that Pollin and minority owner Ted Leonsis — the latter of whom single-handedly united Jordan and the Wizards when Jordan became part-owner and president of basketball operations in 2000 — were displeased with Jordan’s work ethic during the 19 months he served as an executive.Jordan ended his second retirement in 2001 to lead the Wizards to consecutive 37-45 seasons before retiring again. According to the New York Times, one complaint of Leonsis’ and Pollin’s was that Jordan tried to run the team from his home in Chicago.The Wizards have finished above .500 just five times in the last 22 seasons, and the wrong decision on Jordan could have calamitous repercussions for the franchise.If Jordan does not return, the Wizards almost assuredly will fire coach Doug Collins, hired by Jordan, and they will be forced to buy him out for at least $8 million before beginning what would be a rushed search for the team’s seventh head coach since 1999.Also likely gone if there is a shakeup, according to a source, is assistant general manager Rod Higgins and salary cap manager Fred Whitfield. These losses, coupled with the fact that general manager Wes Unseld is scheduled to begin what could be a protracted leave of absence following the June 26 NBA Draft, could leave the Wizards completely unprepared for free agency this summer and handicapped in terms of making trades.It also has been reported that if Jordan and the Wizards sever ties, Jordan could be in line for a payout from both Leonsis and Pollin of approximately $10 million. The specifics of that payout are unknown, but the payout brings up some questions.In order to comply with league rules that state that no player can have equity in a team, Jordan was forced to relinquish his 6 percent interest in Lincoln Holdings, the minority ownership group headed by Leonsis. At the time, Jordan had no provisions, written or otherwise, to regain his shares when he stopped playing.If Jordan wants to return to the board room and front office, he must strike a new deal with Leonsis and Pollin. Then he again would have to gain league approvals, as he did when he first bought the shares in January 2000.”Michael is out. He has divested of his Lincoln equity, and we are in compliance with league rules,” Leonsis told The Washington Times in September 2001. “There is no deal in place for him coming back to [Lincoln and the Wizards]. If that’s what he ultimately wants, he can talk to me and Abe and see what happens.” According to one source within Washington Sports & Entertainment, one reason why Jordan may not be wanted back is that he supposedly has made it known that he is interested in expanding his role to include not just basketball operations but also some aspects of marketing, which falls under the direction of long-term Pollin loyalist Susan O’Malley, president of WSE.However, Curtis Polk, a close Jordan associate and representative, said Jordan just wants to be involved with the basketball side of the business.”Michael has no list of demands for this meeting, none at all,” Polk said. “All along he has made it really clear that he wants to go back to the same job he had before with the same responsibilities. We intend to hopefully go in there, have a short and sweet meeting and he’ll be the president again.”Though it was reported by the Associated Press earlier this week that Jordan has had conversations with the Charlotte expansion team, set to begin play in the 2004-05 season, about joining its front office, both Jordan and league sources have denied this.Jordan’s presence on the court led to unprecedented financial success for the Wizards, giving them 82 consecutive home sellouts over the last two seasons and increased ticket sales by almost $19 million.However, Pollin is very loyal. In a recent state of the union address to Wizards employees, Pollin said that while he has always been a “league guy,” he is now willing to do “what’s best for the franchise.”As far as Jordan’s involvement is concerned, today’s meeting likely will determine whether a continued partnership with the basketball legend comes under that category.

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