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December 06, 2001

Jordan alone knows
By Dan Patrick

Michael Jordan
MJ is trading his suit for a jersey.
With the sports world caught up in the start of the football season, pennant races, home-run races and a major golf tournament, a key story has briefly slipped below the radar. Will Michael Jordan return to the NBA? Despite recent developments, I think the story is still where it was last spring. He'll come back if he believes he can perform at an acceptable level, and he won't make the decision until he must.

Doug Collins was a guest on my radio show this week, and he has a unique perspective on this story. He was once Jordan's coach and now he's Jordan coach again. The difference is that the first time around, Jordan simply played for him. This time, VP/GM Jordan chose Collins to coach the Wizards, with the extreme probability that Jordan will once again play for him.

The big difference, though, is measured in jewelry. The first time Collins coached Jordan, MJ was an electrifying player with an awfully bright future. This time around, Collins is working with a six-time NBA champion, 10-time NBA scoring champ and five-time NBA MVP with the brightest of pasts. He's spectacularly rich too.

All that achievement gives Jordan all the power. He doesn't have to do anything he doesn't want to do for the rest of his life. Collins knows that. But you have to assume that Collins assumed Jordan was coming back. Why give up a cushy NBC analyst job to watch game film on the road in January? To coach Michael Jordan again, that's why.

But Jordan's Ron Artest-cracked rib changed things a bit. The timetable was thrown off.

So Collins is doing what he has to do. He is preparing for the upcoming season with plays that include Michael Jordan and plays that don't. He told me that first-round pick Kwame Brown is not a "project" and will play a lot this year, with or without MJ. Collins is going forward. He just hopes MJ will join him, as a player, some time this fall.

And I also think Collins is being honest when he says, "I don't really know if Michael is coming back." Collins is not so foolish to claim he knows something about Michael Jordan that Michael Jordan does not yet know.

Kwame Brown & Michael Jordan
Kwame Brown, left, and Michael Jordan hope to turn the Wizards into winners.
Collins is also right when he says to forget about the distraction of MJ being a part owner of the Wizards. If he wants to return to the floor, he and the league will figure out something that pleases everyone, just as they did for Magic Johnson.

This is about Michael Jordan's sense of his own ability to still play basketball. He'll know what he knows when he needs to know it. He won't be bullied by someone else's calendar. If he can't come back, he won't. If he can, he will. And only he will decide.

His conditioning regimen was slowed by the rib injury and his own trainer has recently said that valuable time was lost that may not be recoverable by the time NBA training camps open. If so, Jordan will know it and just say, "I can't make it." End of story -- though nobody has made much money underestimating Michael Jordan.

So Doug Collins keeps moving along, drawing up plays with Michael and without Michael. Right now I bet the two stacks of plays are even. But by the time the NFL has kicked off and Barry Bonds has his 60-plus home runs, I bet Doug Collins is hoping that one of those stacks has grown while the other has shrunk.

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