- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 8, 2003

Michael Jordan’s tenure with the Washington Wizards was terminated by owner Abe Pollin yesterday, after a period of highly public turmoil that proved too difficult to resolve.Jordan was told of the decision in a 30-minute meeting before noon at the MCI Center with Mr. Pollin and minority owner Ted Leonsis, along with attorneys representing both sides.Jordan said he was “shocked” by the development, although it has been widely reported in recent days that he had been discussing his employment prospects with Robert Johnson, owner of the new NBA team in Charlotte, N.C.”During my tenure, I dedicated myself to bringing excitement, credibility and my love of the game of basketball to Washington,” Jordan said in a statement released in the late afternoon.”It was well understood that when I finished playing, I would return as president of basketball operations, and this was definitely my desire and intention. However, today, without any prior discussion with me, ownership informed me that it had unilaterally decided to change our mutual long-term understanding. I am shocked by this decision and by the callous refusal to offer me any justification for it.”Jordan had served as the Wizards’ president of basketball operations before coming out of retirement to play for the team the past two seasons.Jordan’s reaction was at odds with numerous news reports that had him entertaining options with other NBA teams, including the Atlanta Hawks, Chicago Bulls and the Charlotte franchise.Jordan and Mr. Johnson spoke on the telephone yesterday shortly after the Wizards told Jordan they didn’t want him back.”Absolutely I want him to be involved,” Mr. Johnson told the Associated Press. “He can play any role he wants to play, frankly.”Jordan first raised the subject of his “other options” in public April 9, after a loss to the Boston Celtics at home.The open discussion of those other options widened the fissure in an organization that already was questioning Jordan’s personnel acumen and his public admonishment of the very players he lured to the Wizards.His take-no-prisoners style, while welcomed in some respects, alienated players and management alike. Jordan and his teammates sniped at one another during the season. The players also criticized Jordan’s handpicked coach, Doug Collins. Mr. Collins publicly complained that his players were disrespectful.Jordan’s time in Chicago also ended badly, though hard feelings there were softened by the six championships he won with the Bulls in the 1990s.The 110-179 record the Wizards compiled in Jordan’s 3½ years with the team made Mr. Pollin’s decision to sever ties easier.Mr. Pollin, in a statement released after the morning meeting, thanked Jordan for his services.”I want to emphasize my sincere thanks to Michael for his time with this franchise,” Mr. Pollin said. “While the roster of talent he has assembled here in Washington may not have succeeded to his and my expectations, I do believe Michael’s desire to win and be successful is unquestioned. In the end, Ted and I felt that this franchise should move in a different direction. I wish him only the very best in his future endeavors.”Mr. Pollin said the team would begin looking for a replacement for Jordan immediately. General Manager Wes Unseld will run basketball operations through the June 26 draft before beginning what could be a protracted leave of absence.Mr. Collins also is in jeopardy. He signed a four-year, $16 million contract with the Wizards on April 19, 2001. Mr. Collins was Jordan’s handpicked savior after a succession of embarrassing coaching failures, notably the 19-63 disaster of Leonard Hamilton in the 2000-01 season.”I’m very disappointed, and I’m sad,” Mr. Collins said from Phoenix. “I know there was disappointment that we did not make the playoffs. But for the first time in a long time we were competitive.”If Mr. Collins is fired, the Wizards would be forced to buy him out at close to $10 million. He has two years remaining on his contract. Assistant General Manager Rod Higgins and Director of Player Personnel Fred Whitfield either will leave voluntarily or be fired, team sources said.It is not known what, if any, changes are in store for Mr. Leonsis’ Lincoln Holdings ownership group as a result of Jordan’s departure. The group controls 44 percent of Washington Sports & Entertainment LP, which owns the Wizards, MCI Center, the Washington Mystics of the Women’s National Basketball Association and the local franchise of Ticketmaster.It was Mr. Leonsis who initially brought Jordan to Washington. Jordan joined the Wizards as president of basketball operations and as a minority owner in January 2000. He was forced to relinquish his ownership stake in the franchise when he joined the team as a player in October 2000. Mr. Leonsis would have offered Jordan equity in the Wizards and Capitals again had Jordan remained with the club.Jordan’s two seasons on the court with the Wizards enthralled fans and delivered a financial windfall for the team. He helped the club to 82 sellouts at the MCI Center and an increase in ticket sales.However, his maneuvering as an executive charged with acquiring players was mostly cosmetic. Jordan performed that job from his home in Chicago or from a golf course. The Wizards finished 37-45 in both of his seasons as a player and never made the playoffs.Mr. Pollin, 79, had hoped for better results for a team that has posted five winning seasons in its past 22. Mr. Pollin also is said to have been troubled by what he saw as a fractured locker room in which Jordan and Mr. Collins often clashed with other players.Nonetheless, Mr. Pollin said that he felt the team gained from Jordan’s two years as a player.”I firmly believe that Michael’s time with us as a player will have a lasting impact on every player on our roster, and there is no question that our fans were treated to a very unique two seasons as the greatest player in the world completed his career here in Washington,” he said.

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