Jordan makes comeback official; to sign with Wizards for two years

  • Joseph White / Associated Press
  • Monday, September 24, 2001 9:00pm
  • Sports

By Joseph White

Associated Press

WASHINGTON – Michael Jordan made his comeback official Tuesday, announcing he will return to play in the NBA and sign a two-year contract with the Washington Wizards.

“I am returning as a player to the game I love,” said Jordan, 38 and more than three years removed from what seemed to be a storybook ending to his career.

Jordan will donate his entire salary for the upcoming season to relief agencies working with the victims of the terrorist attacks on Washington and New York, said Estee Portnoy, a spokeswoman for SFX, Jordan’s management agency.

“I am especially excited about the Washington Wizards, and I’m convinced we have the foundation on which to build a playoff-contention team,” Jordan said in a statement issued through his management agency.

“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.”

The five-time league MVP, who retired for a second time in 1999 after leading the Chicago Bulls to their sixth title, announced his comeback after clearing up a licensing issue with one of his sponsors – a disagreement that caused the official announcement to come a day later than expected.

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 always kick it back open 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.”

Jordan said he would not comment further on his return until Oct. 1.

Jordan has been training for a possible comeback for about six months, at first saying that he was simply trying to lose the extra weight he had gained in retirement. He rigorously worked himself into playing shape over the summer by holding several invitation-only camps of pickup games with other NBA players at a gym in Chicago.

Jordan’s first official practice with the Wizards will be Oct. 2, the first day of training camp at Wilmington, N.C. He occasionally worked out with the team last season when he was president of basketball operations, a job in which he almost completely overhauled 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 were in the NBA when Jordan was playing for the Bulls. Turning a team that won only 19 games last season into a winner might be an insurmountable challenge even for Jordan.

“I know there are a lot of naysayers out there,” Jordan said earlier this month to reporters in Chicago when he all but made his return official. “Winning isn’t always championships. What’s wrong with helping kids find their way, teaching them the game?”

To comply with NBA rules, Jordan had to sell his ownership stake in the Wizards, which he obtained along with a share of the NHL’s Washington Capitals on Jan. 19, 2000. He also had to resign his position as Washington’s president of basketball operations.

The ownership paperwork was completed Friday, and Jordan’s attorneys ironed out the last few glitches 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.

“This is certainly an extremely important moment in the history of our franchise, however our excitement is muted by the world events that surround us,” Wizards owner Abe Pollin said.

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

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 graduate 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.

Jordan suffered three physical setbacks over the summer, raising doubts about whether his body could endure the rigors of an 82-game schedule. Back spasms and knee tendinitis curtailed his workouts, and two cracked ribs from a collision in a pickup game took him off the court for four weeks.

Jordan will return without the all-star cast that he hoped would accompany him. Charles Barkley, who spoke of playing with Jordan, abandoned his comeback bid during the summer, and the Wizards were unable to sign any marquee players.

But by ridding the Wizards of the high-salaried, long-term contracts of Rod Strickland, Juwan Howard and Mitch Richmond, Jordan has given the Wizards enough salary cap flexibility to restock the roster next summer.

Jordan won 10 scoring titles and is the NBA’s fourth all-time leading scorer with 29,277 points. He has averaged a league-record 31.5 points per regular season game throughout his career and 33.4 in the playoffs.

Jordan’s first retirement came in October 1993, after he led the Bulls to three titles. He played baseball in the Chicago White Sox organization for one season, but he couldn’t make it out of the minor leagues and returned to the Bulls in March 1995.

Jordan led the Bulls to three more titles and retired again in January 1999, shortly before the start of the lockout-shortened season. He made his final shot in a Chicago uniform, sinking a jumper over Bryon Russell of Utah in Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals – a play that came to be known as Jordan’s “last shot” – to give the Bulls their sixth title of the decade.

Jordan is scheduled to make his return appearance in Chicago on Jan. 19. His regular-season debut will be Oct. 30 at Madison Square Garden against the Knicks, and his first home game for the Wizards will be Nov. 3 against Allen Iverson and the Philadelphia 76ers.

“While nothing can take away from the past, I am firmly focused on the future and the competitive challenge ahead of me,” Jordan said.

___

Eds: Basketball Writer Chris Sheridan contributed to this story from New York.

Copyright ©2001 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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