- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 1, 2003

Abe Pollin apparently is not going to hold a ceremony to retire Michael Jordan’s jersey number this season.

In fact, most traces of Jordan have been expunged from the arena on Fun Street, color pictures in the hallways and the like.

Jordan does not even merit a photograph somewhere in the team’s media guide. Coincidentally or not, his two All-Star appearances with the Wizards have been omitted from the team’s all-time listing.

A person could get the idea that Jordan’s two seasons as a player in Tony Cheng’s neighborhood did not happen.

Maybe we imagined it. Or maybe it was some sort of concept out of a virtual world.

Whatever the case, these Wizards are determined to distance themselves from the unpleasant association of what turned out to be a glorified therapy session for a legend way past his prime.

These Wizards are what Jordan was not.

They are young, active, and just naive enough to think they can secure a playoff berth this season, as Gilbert Arenas declared soon after leaving the West Coast.

Arenas is all of 21 years old, seemingly the average age of a team that needs time to grow and a lighter touch.

Now there is no fear in the locker room. There is no sense of always being under the employer’s judgmental eye. These Wizards come to the arena with energy, with a freshness about them. These Wizards are eager, scrappy and indifferent to the grim forecasts emanating from the NBA’s intelligence gatherers. These Wizards are free at last.

What’s this? They are apt to push the ball up the floor, an unofficial no-no of the past made in deference to Jordan’s tired legs.

No one expects the Wizards to break 30 victories this season. No one expects the Wizards to be much more than fodder.

But here is what the Wizards can be: They can be a team with promise.

They have a vitality for now. They no longer are bit players in an odd “Back to the Future” sequel. They have a willingness to play through their mistakes instead of looking to the bench to see a coach in various shades of torment.

Doug Collins is gone, too. His departure is no small lift to everyone’s mood. He talked himself out of job in Chicago and then cried himself out of one in Detroit before blowing a gasket in Washington.

The Wizards are inclined to be maddeningly careless at times, if only because their basketball minds have not caught up to their bodies, and it is way too early to say where all this is leading. The Wizards could hit the imaginary wall in February and fade into nothingness, as predicted.

But so far, youthful mistakes and all, the Wizards are behaving as if they appreciate being released from the shackles of Jordan and Collins, of not being required to wait for the old man to set up on the wing.

Of course, the Wizards are not in the company of the Nets. The passing between these two previously like-minded franchises was made under Jordan’s watch. The Wizards won only one game out of four against the Nets in each of the last two seasons.

Not too long ago, the Nets were not unlike the Wizards, seemingly forever stuck in the NBA’s muck

Now the Nets pass as an elite team in the Eastern Conference, as elite is defined in the junior varsity wing of the NBA.

The Nets represent hope to the rest of the modestly equipped in the conference. The difference between the haves and have-nots is slight. Jason Kidd, one player, is the difference between a 26-win season and two consecutive trips to the NBA Finals.

The climb up is not arduous, the same in reverse, as Ernie Grunfeld could attest.

It was just two seasons ago that Grunfeld’s Bucks took the 76ers to seven games in the conference finals. Now look at the Bucks, both faceless and hopeless.

The lesson is instructive in this season of change and uncertainty with the Wizards.

The Wizards have completed the initial assignment in their first three games, even if the basketball has not always been pretty or compelling.

The Wizards are playing hard, and they are playing with an enthusiasm that was drained from them the last two seasons.

Pollin was right along, the purging necessary.


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