Tuesday, March 11, 2003

Jordan loses patience with younger Wizards


But he should look in mirror

By Mike Lopresti
Gannett News Service

The back may ache. The leg might hurt. Some days, the moves may come a little slower, even as the losses come faster.

This is not the way for Michael Jordan to say goodbye, out of time and out of patience, playing 43 minutes a night, desperately trying to lead a team that will not be led.

His body is telling him he is 40 years old. Warning him that he is pushing too hard. But his Washington Wizards are melting around him.

He was to be the tutor and they the students, and together they would learn how to win. Maybe even cause a little playoff trouble.

Never mind that now. Barring a prompt U-turn, there will be no playoffs for Jordan. Just 19 more regular-season games.

Unless the losing and disappointment are enough to bring him back. Again.

Someone popped that question the other day in New York, after the latest Washington defeat. Answered Jordan, "Are you nuts?"

Losers of four of last five

The Wizards are wheezing. They have lost four of five when it was time to make a move, falling two games behind the last playoff spot. Later this month is a brutal stretch, when nine of 11 tip-offs will be on the road, six in the deadly West. That could very well finish them off.

Jordan can read a schedule. He realizes the urgency. Sunday he put in all his will - and 39 points - on the court to save a winnable game, only to look around and find most of the hired hands with their hands up.

They are in their 20s. He is 40. He seems astounded they do not share his passion.

"I'm doing everything I can to try to verbalize as well as physically show what it takes to win," he said. "It's up to them to receive that."

Jerry Stackhouse was moaning about not getting the ball enough. "What we're doing right now," he said, "ain't for me."

Who can Jordan blame? He could start with the guy who stuck him with most of the parts.

Michael Jordan.

When he wore a suit as president of basketball operations, he picked much of the supporting cast for his farewell tour.

No wonder defeat eats at him, for it is very much his defeat. This team has Jordan's fingerprints all over it, and still needs a late rush to finish in eighth place.

He cannot fix whatever is wrong, not even with 39 points on a Sunday in Madison Square Garden.

That must be especially infuriating, to be in control but not have control. Jordan has bent hundreds of games where he wanted, when he wanted. It was an amazing quality, the ability to impose an absolute dictatorship in such a small and crowded space. But he needs help. His coworkers can't seem to understand the demands of winning.

"I can look in the locker room and see a couple of guys willing to do those things," he said. "But I can look and count a lot more on my fingers who don't do that."

Player MJ doing all he can

Jordan is doing all he can. Probably more than he should. In his last 10 games, he has played at least 41 minutes seven times. No wonder he has the trainer so busy.

There are still grand individual moments. Distinctly Jordan moments. He still leaves them cheering.

But the true happy ending - when the reconstructed Wizards would grasp his teachings and take wing - seems out of reach.

The last bow apparently comes dipped in frustration. The Wizards have turned no corner, and there are 19 games to go.

Mike Lopresti writes for Gannett News Service.




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