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December 06, 2001

Welcome back, Michael
By Dan Patrick

It's official. The idea has been tantalizingly in the news since May, but now we have the confirmation: Michael Jordan is returning to the NBA.

People may say, "Err Jordan." Not me. What is the downside of his return?
You will hear outcries: Why would he risk this? Jordan went out the way champions go out -- by hitting the game-winning shot in the final game of his career to win a championship.

Many will say he should stay retired. But who designated the rest of us as the keepers of his flame? For whatever reason, if this is what Jordan wants, if the flame still burns and he still wants to play, he's earned that right considering what he's given us before.

People may say, "Err Jordan." Not me. What is the downside of his return? From a league standpoint, the younger players will lose some of the spotlight. So what? Earn the spotlight. When Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Isiah Thomas were around, Jordan came in and eventually took the spotlight. And he never gave it back. If it's so important, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal, Allen Iverson, Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady will hold on to it. Even in a league that features Michael Jordan. Maybe that's what needs to happen.

At first, I feared that we might see Jordan the way we saw a broken-down Willie Mays at the end of his career -- falling down in center field at Shea Stadium at age 41. Jordan will soon be 39, very old in NBA years. We don't know where he'll play, but he won't be guarding anyone older than himself, that's for sure. Night after night, Jordan will have Allen Iverson and Ray Allen and Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady. He's playing against the best athletes in the world. Jordan knows this. And he's still coming back.

Michael Jordan and Karl Malone
Michael Jordan stole the ball from Karl Malone before hitting his famous shot to give the Bulls the '98 title.
There are other questions. Will the zone help his game? Will the zone allow people to defend him better than they ever have? Will the slowed-down game help him?

One of his hallmarks was that Jordan made good players great and average players better. Here are some of his fellow Wizards: Kwame Brown (a diamond in the rough), Jahidi White, Brendan Haywood, Chris Whitney, Tyronn Lue, Tyrone Nesby, Christian Laettner, Popeye Jones. He has his work cut out for him with Washington.

Certainly, Jordan is not doing this for the camaraderie of road trips and to hang out with Courtney Alexander and Richard Hamilton. Is there ego involved? Yes.

But there is ego involved in every comeback, whether it's Mario Lemieux or some boxer. There has to be ego. It's what drives most of the great ones. So I think it's fair to say that part of him misses the adulation, "the juice" that comes with being "the man." Being the GM of the Wizards was not giving him what he wanted, obviously. So MJ will return to the NBA.

Do I expect what I expected before? No. But I do expect to see some greatness, just not as consistently as we have come to expect from Michael Jordan. In his prime, he brought the lowly Bulls to the pinnacle of NBA success. Father Time says he can't do that in Washington.

Still, let's get something straight. This isn't Muhammad Ali coming back to be beat up by Larry Holmes. Or Willie Mays falling down at Shea. Or Joe Namath in a Rams uniform. Or Johnny Unitas in a Chargers uniform. This is, at age 38, a guy who is not out there to be a sideshow. So don't worry about whether he should have or shouldn't have.

He's coming back.

Enjoy it.

Send this story to a friend | Most sent stories

It's official: Jordan to play for Wizards

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Aldridge: Point is, he might not be great

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Being Michael Jordan, part 2

Ratto: MJ can because he can

Bucher: Call a tow truck

Hughes: Come back, MJ, and let us enjoy you

Dan Patrick Archive


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