Ever since Michael Jordan started working out again, anyone in any way associated with the Association has been asked the question countless times. "So ... do you think he's coming back?"
It's a sticky question for three reasons.
The first is that logic -- along with several Wizards who watched him walk around with a cigar and drink in hand for the last year as team president -- says he's too far gone to get anywhere near his previous playing condition.
The second is Jordan's track record of defying logic.
The third? According to everyone who has talked to Jordan in the last month, he doesn't know if he's coming back himself.
Now if you want to know why he's doing this, I can offer at least one answer you probably haven't heard before: The NASDAQ.
Don't think for a minute that Jordan's motivation for joining the Wizards had to do with becoming a great GM, or outdueling Jerry Krause at his own game. That's too small for Mike. If there's one arena of competition other than basketball that stokes Jordan's competitive fires, it's business. And for all his marketing success, he can't compete with the big dogs in that arena.
I'm told that knowing Mark Cuban is worth 10 times more than he is eats at him the same way that seeing Isiah Thomas hoist a trophy did. And that being 20th on a list of top money-makers under 40 last year burns in his gut as much as being frozen out of an All-Star Game.
He agreed to attach his prestigious persona to the Wizards because, in return, Ted Leonsis, team minority owner and co-founder of AOL, promised to show him how to change all that. Knowing he no longer could reign supreme in the NBA, Jordan decided to take on Bill Gates and Warren Buffett.
Ridiculous, you say? Ahhh, that's just the kind of challenge Jordan loves -- and he wouldn't have to worry about a fading vertical holding him back.
But then the tech-stock avenue went poof, and Jordan began looking for a new arena. It's natural that he would first turn back to the one he knows best, especially with Mario Lemieux -- another reformed dot-com entrepreneur -- making a successful return.
So, do I think he's coming back? I'd only try to guess that after seeing him practice. But know this -- Jordan isn't interested in coming back because he misses the game. What he misses is being the best. If he concludes that he can't do that in the NBA, my guess is he'll keep looking.
Ric Bucher is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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