- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 8, 2003

Here we go again.

Michael Jordan is back in the news, this time as a potential life preserver of the Lakers.

Jordan is up to 40 years old and three retirements.

What is one more farewell tour if the Zen master sends a distress signal to Jordan in Chicago?

“It has crossed my mind,” the Zen master told the Chicago Tribune yesterday. “But I don’t think I’d ask Michael that question until it became absolutely necessary or it became a reality. It’s just speculation.”

That is how it usually is in these matters of national importance involving Jordan.

There is a tantalizing hint, followed by non-denial denials and tarot card readings, then a period of build-up before Jordan comes down off his throne and reveals his true intentions.

Jordan is not in the NBA at the moment after being fired on Fun Street, spurning a front office position in Charlotte and losing out on his ownership bid in Milwaukee. His absence from the NBA is no small circumstance to commissioner David Stern, forever indebted to the marketing power of Jordan.

Jordan, in some ways, remains at the top of the NBA class today. He was hardly the player he once was in his two seasons in Washington, but he still had enough magic left in his bones to excite the masses.

He sold out every arena, he put up 20 points a game and occasionally he would pull a play out of his championship past. No one in the NBA has his transcendent appeal.

The logic of Jordan joining the Lakers is prompted by the mess of the Kobe Bryant case.

The Zen master is dealing with a powerful unknown in the Bryant legal battle. Bryant has conceded that he has contemplated not playing this season. He has higher priorities than claiming a fourth NBA championship, to say the least, such as staying out of prison and repairing his marriage.

At some point this season, Bryant is destined to be the ultimate commuter, flying hither and yon from the goings-on in Colorado. It hardly would be an act of irresponsibility if it all came to be too much on him and he elected to take a leave of absence from his basketball duties.

Jordan, in particular, knows all about the pitfalls of being a commuter by air. The question of commitment, dedication and focus is put into play.

Unlike Jordan, Bryant has no choice but to attend to the serious business in Colorado before heading to wherever the basketball schedule leads him.

The prospect before Bryant is, understandably, working on the Zen master’s head. His considerations are short-term following the additions of 40-year-old Karl Malone, 38-year-old Horace Grant and 35-year-old Gary Payton.

The shelf life of the team possibly does not extend beyond this season. The Lakers either will win the NBA championship or go down as colossal failures. There is no other destiny before the Lakers. Shaquille O’Neal recognizes the all-or-nothing proposition. With the help of a personal trainer, O’Neal has shed 35 pounds and revealed one of the closely guarded secrets of the NBA, which is his exact weight. He reported to the team’s training camp in Hawaii at 345 pounds, down from his playing weight of 380 last season.

Jordan, with the Lakers, could be the facilitator he refused to be in Washington. He certainly knows all the subtleties of Tex Winter’s triangle offense, which could be beneficial to Malone and Payton. He also could find a measure of redemption in Los Angeles following his unsuccessful stint in Washington.

The idea of Jordan and the Zen master being reunited again works because of their history in Chicago and baggage-free function.

There were three aspects to Jordan’s tenure in Washington: the personnel director, the office politician and the player. He failed in the first two capacities but largely succeeded in the third.

The Zen master, no dummy, appreciates the levity Jordan could bring to a team that has a considerable amount of doubt in its locker room. No one possibly can grasp all the potential twists and turns in the Bryant case and their effect on the championship march of the Lakers.

Jordan is one intriguing option, assuming he is up to it, an insurance policy against the very real possibility of a Bryant-induced disaster.

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