- The Washington Times - Friday, May 9, 2003

Could it be baskets of bucks being sucked down the District’s drains? Just kiss those gilded greenbacks goodbye as they roll through the rushes, flowing like a flood behind Michael Jordan as he motors down Interstate 95 in that sleek, black Mercedes-Benz SL55 AMG. Because whatz’up with that? Hey, say what you want about MJ, but that beautiful brother’s got mega-class to go with his mega-cash. He rolled out in style. (We’ll forgive the Illinois license plates.)

Now, Cuzin’ Kim might be upset to see her cute “hunk-a-burning love” leaving town. And Cuzin’ Raymond isn’t too pleased — to put it mildly — with how the ungrateful Washington Wizards’ owners haphazardly handled MJ’s funky departure. To me, His Airness’ curious canning first comes down to one very important commodity: M-O-N-E-Y.

Jordan was “shocked” to be let go when he asked to return to a Wizards’ front-office gig after bringing that failing franchise back from the brink. But you better bet that D.C. officials are going to be even more shocked when the revamped team turns over tax revenues generated from lackluster ticket sales next season.

The ability of the wimpy Wizards to sell out at the MCI Center without Air Jordan should be closely audited at a time when the District’s mayor, Anthony A. Williams, audaciously attempts to throw $338 million of city funds at an unnecessary baseball stadium that’s going to be equally hard to fill with a gypsy baseball team.

As a special birthday treat, my friend and broadcast colleague, Kojo Nnamdi of “The Kojo Nnamdi Show” on WAMU-FM and “Evening Exchange” on WHUT-TV, invited me to Jordan’s final home game at MCI Center. The place was packed. The energy was palpable. And yours truly acted a fool with the rest of the fans seated nearby who gave His Airness a five-minute standing ovation even though the team was trounced.

Kojo’s season ticket seats were in “reach-out-and-touch” Jordan range. General Manager Wes Unseld and former Georgetown University coach John Thompson also were in striking distance. Don’t think I didn’t try.

Like everyone else, I was disappointed when Jordan only nodded a thank you to the crowd after a career clip reel was shown. It was an anticlimactic moment. I sensed, even then, that something was amiss. It was like watching Sonny and Cher do their last performance of the famed duet “I’ve Got You Babe.”

Owner Abe Pollin’s gift of computers to 13 D.C. schools in Jordan’s name was a nice gesture but didn’t nearly approach the fuss and fanfare that was hyped for the retirement of arguably the greatest player who took it to the hoop.

After all, the District is still a basketball town. However, for their long-running loyalty, the fans were handed a plastic ticket-holder neck chain as a souvenir most unbefitting the occasion. It was then that Kojo and I began to debate Jordan’s future, or rather Washington’s and the Wizards’ future without Jordan, a prime moneymaker.

We decided Jordan would want to stay in the capital among all its high and mighty celebrities. Who wouldn’t? Kojo admitted that he was unlikely to be a season ticket holder next year. His was a sentiment I heard repeatedly as we filed out of the MCI Center and meandered through the well-heeled crowd moving along Sixth Street NW on our way to our cars.

I noticed that our tickets cost $95 apiece. Parking that night was going for $20 minimum per car. I’m not aware of the cost of the drinks and peanuts we consumed.

We can speculate all we want about why Jordan was unceremoniously fired from the Wizards basketball team, but one thing is certain: We watched money roll away with him.

It should be lost on no one that the Wizards had 82 sold-out home games in the two seasons that No. 23 played. Forget computers. The tax dollars could purchase some badly needed textbooks.

As a reminder, The Washington Times sports department reported that the Wizards experienced a 25 percent increase in annual revenue — more than $100 million — with Jordan as a player.

His departure “will have a negative impact,” said D.C. developer Michele Hagans. “Clearly he was a catalyst not only for MCI but for the businesses surrounding it.”

She added that people are mad at Mr. Pollin.

Indeed, an irate Mr. Thompson, speaking on his radio show on WTEM-AM (980) Wednesday afternoon, said Jordan was “used, and as soon as he was not marketable, he was fired.”

“Michael is an inspiration to most of us but also needed [as a role model] by some of us,” Mr. Thompson said. “I don’t like [the decision]. It’s not beneficial to the city.”

Mr. Thompson was particularly angered that the team has tried to “discredit a hero who was needed so they could make it easier for them to fire him.”

Others would disagree.

D.C. activist Lawrence Guyot said Jordan was selfish, self-centered and did nothing good for the city, so “good riddance.”

Business owner Linda Lee, owner of Hunan Chinatown, said she supports whatever business decision Mr. Pollin made regarding Jordan. From her vantage point, Jordan was good for business his first season here, but did not bring in customers this past year. However, Mrs. Lee attributed some of the slack in her business to the number of restaurants that have opened closer to the arena.

Yet, like the venerable Coach Thompson, Cuzin’ Ray, a year-round sports fan, said Jordan’s being let go is “a bummer, not to give the man a chance to finish something he started.”

“They are not looking at the big picture” because Jordan’s presence not only “put the team back on the map when they weren’t even on television. … He lifted the spirit of the city and sold out every game,” Cuzin’ Raymond said. He also said he wouldn’t be surprised if someone did try to conduct a boycott against the Wizards. We’ll see.

I saw MJ perform wizardry at MCI Center only one other time. He was hot, hot that night, scoring more than 40 points. My son and I attended that game and many others with Cuzin’ Raymond, courtesy of his boss, Steve Fay, owner of Battlefield Ford.

Grateful as I was for the show, there was no comparison between the Wizards with Jordan and the Wizards without.

Win or lose, MJ was the draw. His departure is not only the team’s loss, but also a bigger loss for the city in more ways than counting the M-O-N-E-Y.

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