Wednesday, September 26, 2001

Jordan: He's back

The Associated Press

        WASHINGTON — The worst-kept secret in sports is out: Michael Jordan will play again in the NBA — and not just for one season, but two.

        After months of hints, smiles and winks that kept his fans on edge, Jordan finally announced his comeback Tuesday, saying he would play for the Washington Wizards through 2003 and donate his first year's salary to victims of the Sept.11 terrorist attacks.

Chicago Bulls' Michael Jordan makes the winning shot during Game 6 of the NBA Finals against the Utah Jazz at the Delta Center in Salt Lake City, Utah, in this June 14, 1998 photo.
(AP photo)
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        “I am returning as a player to the game I love,” said Jordan, 38 and three years removed from what seemed to be a storybook ending to an unparalleled career. “I am especially excited about the Washington Wizards, and I'm convinced we have the foundation on which to build a playoff-contention team.

        “The opportunity to teach our young players and help them elevate their game to a higher level, and to thank the fans in Washington for their loyalty and support, strongly influenced my decision,” he said in a statement issued through his management agency.

        The five-time league MVP, who retired for a second time in 1999 after leading the Chicago Bulls to their sixth title of the decade, made it official after clearing up a licensing issue with one of his sponsors — a disagreement that delayed the announcement by a day. NBA rules also required Jordan to sell his ownership stake in the Wizards.

        Jordan never completely ruled out a comeback when he retired in January 1999, hedging his bets with the statement that he was “99.9 percent” certain he would never play again. Leaving the door open, even by one-tenth of 1 percent, meant Jordan could slip back into a uniform without going back on his word.

        Now, he has.

        “I am happy to welcome Michael Jordan, the player, back to the NBA, although, as commissioner, I am sorry to lose him in the board room,” NBA commissioner David Stern said. “Michael has always brought joy to basketball fans around the world, and, in these difficult times, we can all use a little more joy in our lives.”

        His regular-season debut will be Oct.30 at Madison Square Garden against the New York Knicks, and his first home game for the Wizards will be Nov.3 against Allen Iverson and the Philadelphia 76ers.

        “The greatest player in the history of the game is joining my team, and for that I am extremely honored and pleased,” Wizards owner Abe Pollin said.

        Jordan will be in the unusual position of playing for the coach he hired, Doug Collins, who joined the Wizards in April and also coached Jordan for three seasons with the Bulls in the 1980s. Jordan will share the court with players he signed, drafted and traded for, including high school sensation Kwame Brown, selected No.1 overall by the Wizards in June, and veteran forward Christian Laettner — a graduate of Duke, the archrival of Jordan's alma mater, North Carolina.

        “We'll see how fast the No.23 Wizards jersey becomes the No.1-selling jersey in the NBA. That probably will start today,” Collins said.

        NBC said it would change its television schedule to include some Wizards games. Turner Sports will do the same, with TBS in line to air the season opener.

        Jordan has been in training for about six months, at first saying he simply was trying to lose the extra weight he had gained in retirement.

        He occasionally worked out with the team last season when he was president of basketball operations, a job he used to almost completely overhaul Washington's roster and put the team into a rebuilding mode.

        His supporting cast will include the likes of Jahidi White, Richard Hamilton and Courtney Alexander — none of whom was in the NBA when Jordan played for the Bulls.

        Jordan also owned a piece of the NHL Washington Capitals, buying it when he acquired shares in the Wizards on Jan.19, 2000.

        The paperwork to sell his stake in both teams was completed Friday, and Jordan's lawyers ironed out the last few wrinkles to clear the way for his comeback announcement.

        The final holdup involved the video game licensing rights to Jordan's likeness, according to Jeff Brown of EA Sports, a game manufacturer.


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