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Michael Jordan went out as a Bullet. Thanks to the magic of sports marketing, the hero of the Chicago Bulls played his last NBA home games in a red-and-white-striped No. 23 retro jersey. For a moment, that shirt—BULLETS, JORDAN—seemed an artifact from some other universe, one in which the Bullets had moved up three spots in the 1984 draft to take Jordan, while Chicago settled for Mel Turpin.
Then the truth sank in: The jersey was there to mark the fact it’s been 25 years since Washington won an NBA championship. Jordan was wearing it as the inheritor of a quarter-century tradition of losing.
It was easy to conjure illusions in the District’s Jordan Era, right up to the end. Jordan was going to turn the Wizards franchise around as an executive. He was going to carry them to the playoffs as a player. He was going to lead them to the winner’s circle through tireless work and indomitable will. He was going to make this city the hub of the great Jordan galaxy.
But Jordan the Wizard wasn’t the Prime Mover anymore, bending the universe to his aims. On the court, he was creaky and old; in the executive suite, he was cranky and unseasoned. He could pack the house; he could score 40 sometimes, if he felt right. It didn’t help.
Celebrity may be today’s substitute for nobility, but it lacks the same staying power. Outside a particular time and place, a celebrity stops being inspiring and starts to be dead weight. That goes double or triple for celebrity athletes, once the jump shot starts hitting the front rim and the crafty dribble starts skipping the wrong way.
For one hot-shooting quarter, or one night at a club, you could still pretend that Michael Jordan was Michael Jordan. But it couldn’t last. Step back and he was just another Wizards or Bullets short-timer with a funny backstory, Rex Chapman or Manute Bol. He was just another businessman watching things go sour with the boss. Guys like that come along all the time. And then they go. —Tom Scocca
Most Valuable Playa
After hours, Jordan ruled.
By Jason Cherkis and David Morton
Michael Jordan needed one last round. It was late, maybe 12 hours after his now-famous last cruise out of the MCI Center, riding solo in his dark Mercedes coupe. As he walked up the back stairs of MCCXXIII, away from the velvet ropes and the crowd of diplomat kids, Jordan turned to Mike, the bouncer escorting him, and blurted: “There’s a whole lot of hot-ass bitches here.”
Jordan was usually unapproachable, cold even, to the dance club’s help, according to Mike and his co-workers. But in noting the hot-ass bitches, Jordan seemed determined to have a private-dude moment. He may have wanted to mark the night, maybe his last night, with special meaning. If he didn’t have a shoulder to cry on, a head nod would do. Whatever, the bouncer thought.
Jordan reached his floor, the third-floor V.I.P. room known as Spank. He walked past the Abu DhabiñmeetsñNew York crowd, a row of white soft-plastic upholstered beds, and a bar topped with smoked white granite. He slinked up a short step, past a lightedÊfloor, to his usual table at the rear. He was then fÍted with comped vodka and champagne, and joined by his golden-oldies act of Patrick Ewing and Charles Oakley. It was Wednesday, hiphop night. Jordan doesn’t miss hiphop night.
Normally Spank was just a pit stop. A vodka-cranberry, maybe a little flirting, and he was gone. Not this Wednesday. Jordan hunkered down behind his new collection of free booze.
David Karim, the club’s co-owner, hadn’t yet heard the news. Over the loud beats, Jordan told him, “I’m out of here.”
All Karim could say was: “I’m going to miss you, baby.”
Salud. Another round. Luke, a tall no-nonsense waiter, is Spank’s best, the one always deputized to fetch Jordan’s entourage all their comped beverages. He’s waited on Jordan, by his estimation, 30 to 40 times in the past three years, and, he says, never gotten a tip. This night, as on every night, Luke was working for Jordan, for $1.88 per hour. (Jordan could not be reached for comment on his nightlife activities.)
Luke says he’s always had trouble relating to Jordan on a personal level. But with each Cape Codder that night, Jordan came closer to resembling just a guy who had lost his job.
The lights came on at 2 a.m. The diplomat kids looked that much more desperate, the fake breasts looked that much more fake, and Jordan looked that much more hammered. “I’ve never seen him more drunk in my life,” Luke says. “He normally stays here 20 minutes to an hour. But he stayed ’til closing. That never happens. And he still didn’t tip me.”
Mike walked Jordan out the door and down the back stairs. Mike reports that Jordan didn’t stumble. He was still a pro.
Jordan had always been chided as anything but a team player: He was Washington’s highest-profile commuter—with one foot in Chicago and one foot on the 18th green with Charles Barkley—a man with little need for D.C., his unseasoned teammates, or anyone not named Michael Jordan.
But he was always loyal to Spank. He’d made Spank.
At 40, Jordan still could count on his social skills. He still had that smile—and the millions that were behind it. And maybe that smile didn’t sell as many Ball Park Franks as it used to, maybe that smile had to maintain through bum knees, a pain-in-the-ass team, and a rocky marriage—but it still knew how to travel well. Truth is, Jordan gave 110 percent where it counted: the District’s club scene.
Jordan shot pool at Dream in front of a throng of devoted women. He crashed Ozio with Oakley at 3 a.m. after jetting back from a win in Boston. And he often closed out Cafe Milano, holding court at the most visible table. There, all he had to do was smile and, sources report, the ladies would queue up hoping for more than just an autograph.
If he didn’t always offer his hand to shake, or return a wave, Jordan gave much more than he got. Your good time was as effortless as being wherever he was. Even at home, at Foggy Bottom’s Ritz-Carlton, Jordan often finished off his nights at the bar with the most tired of D.C. clichÈs: the Texan conventioneer, the tipsy socialite, or the slack-jawed tourist. He didn’t shield his face (OK, sometimes he did, according to one source) or stomp up to his condo. He simply puffed on his imported cigar and made you feel like having one, too.
People’s eyes light up at the thought. For real. The bartenders and wait staff break out of the boredom that is the Ritz bar at the mention of MJ. They do not cower. They do not look over their shoulders. “I’ve seen him in some pretty interesting situations,” says one source. “Let’s just say I’ve seen him happy.”
If you saw it, Jordan’s happiness was communicable. According to two sources, he never pulled the “Do you know who I am?” line. He just had to smile. That was Mike. Be like Mike. “He’s just like all of us,” the source says. “MJ does things properly.”
Like showing up at his custom-specified dining room in jordans, his namesake restaurant in the Ronald Reagan Building. He kept things simple, low-maintenance. All he asked, once seated, was that his glass of Jack and Sprite always be filled. The room carried the same chill vibe: white walls adorned with black-and-white stills of pouty fashion models who were hot 10 years ago, a collection of “Smooth Grooves” CDs snug in the wall-mounted stereo, a Fujitsu flat-screen TV tuned to ESPN.
Jordan didn’t need to order anything. Food just came to him. He liked his steakhouse’s Delmonico just fine. But, mostly, one waiter says, he really liked chicken. His entourage always concurred, loving the joint’s wings.
Sometimes, when his driver, George, parked along Pennsylvania Avenue, Jordan would walk the 100 yards himself to pick up his to-go orders. Even that walk could jazz the restaurant’s general manager. He knew the lanky basketball player’s stride so well that he could recognize Jordan just from his approaching silhouette.
Jordans was such a cool, low-key spot, even Jerry Stackhouse felt comfortable crashing the bar and scoping the ladies, according to the wait staff. He didn’t show up just once—he showed up twice.
Out on the town, the little guy could respect Jordan. When Jordan pulled up to Doggett’s parking lot, William Pico, the lot manager, would clear a wide berth for Jordan’s Mercedes or Range Rover. Other luxury cars not owned by basketball legends would be moved so Jordan could park his in the back, usually in the last row. Pico took care of him that way. “He knows we give good space to him,” Pico says.
The lot, located across the street from Cafe Milano on Prospect Street NW, was Jordan’s every other Thursday. Pico says Jordan would pay him up front, slapping at least a 20-spot on top. He adds that he would let the Wizard keep his keys. Jordan usually stayed late at Milano—well past the lot’s 12:30 closing time.
Jordan, Pico says, always arrived upbeat. All the time. And Pico would always be happy to see his friend—their greetings would often begin with a high five. The last time Jordan made it to Doggett’s, he gave the manager a five-dollar bill, autographing it with his deepest “Best Wishes.” Pico still has the bill crammed in his wallet.
2 Without Jordan, the charm is gone from Prospect Street. At Cafe Milano, the day after he was fired, Jordan wasn’t there to be the focus of attention. And this little world was falling apart. A married couple left in separate cabs. A dude in a turquoise blazer wandered among the tables aimlessly. A drunk patron allowed himself to call Jordan “a pig.”
Pico’s crew at Doggett’s could only watch in horror as a white Lamborghini Diablo scraped its bumper—chk, chk, chk—at the bottom of the lot’s entrance. A cotillion of frat boys in an SUV, blocked by the Diablo’s oafish exit, screamed, “Pussy!”
Robert Ryans hung with Jordan from a distance. After almost every home game, Jordan would cool down at Zola, the spy-chic restaurant a block from the MCI Center. Joining him in a rear dining room would be Oakley, Ewing, and sometimes one of Jordan’s brothers. And after almost every home game, Ryans would trek in from his Bethesda office, perch himself at the Zola bar within shout-out distance of Jordan’s crew, and set up a sort of satellite office of testosterone.
Ryans arranged his social calendar to take full advantage of Jordan’s wattage. On game nights, women crowded Zola’s bar top and the barroom walls, hoping to catch a flash of that minted Michael smile. As Ryans describes it, they would stare at Jordan as he ate pasta and they worked themselves into a heat, exchanging fantasies of what they would let Jordan do to them if given a chance. The long nights, the body shots…
But lucky for Ryans, they weren’t very aggressive about making dreams a reality. At Zola, an unspoken rule governed the passions: You didn’t break the Jordan circle. You could look, you could say hi, but you couldn’t sit at Jordan’s table unless invited. The megavolts of female sexual energy threatened to overload the circuits, and that’s when Ryans, with a chrome dome like Jordan’s, stepped it up.
“They would fantasize about him, and here I am: the alternative,” says Ryans, a financial planner, gesturing at his physical attributes to indicate his runner-up value.
Jordan may have been selfish on the court, but at Zola, he was the assist leader. Ryans says that thanks to Jordan, he scored every night. “It worked out 100 percent. Not 20 percent, not 80 percent. One hundred percent.”
He revises the calculation: “Almost 100 percent.” On the Saturday after Jordan left, Ryans drank alone.
Last December, Zola hosted a Wizards Christmas party. All the Wizards piled into a back room, dined, and listened to a cover band run through ’70s classics from Al Green and Earth, Wind & Fire. “Jordan was professional as shit,” says one staffer. “He came when the party started and left when he was supposed to.”
Most impressive of all, the staffer notes, everything about the party was friction-free. Kwame Brown was real quiet. Jerry Stackhouse, at one point, sang along with the band, inserting parody lines about the Wizards into a soul tune.
That’s the thing: That night, Jordan gave the spotlight to Stackhouse. He let him bask in the glow, even steal the glow. Even though this wasn’t Stackhouse’s joint, even though most of the young Wizards usually took up residence across the street at Angelo and Maxie’s, at a time when it mattered—Christmas—Jordan shared. “He’s just a dude,” explained the staffer.
Spank isn’t a place for extended courtships. On the dance floor, there aren’t many obstacles between your desires and grabbing hold of them. There are no rules. No decorum: wear jeans, wear nothing, wear the liquor you just bought. Hedonist kids roll around on the white-sheeted beds or never even make it there. Into this Clubland Caligula glided Jordan like chilled Grey Goose over the tongue, an elder gentleman of the world, cordial, courteous, chivalrous. A man with a specialized taste and a gentle touch.
“He was always with weird-ass-looking girls,” recalls Ahmed, another Spank bouncer, disgust in his voice. “I would not even look at them.”
Ahmed and another Spank source agree that Jordan especially had a soft spot for “chubby blond girls.” (“They do look a little plain-janey, homely-looking,” concurs a frequent clubgoer named Tiffany, describing Jordan’s hangers-on at the V.I.P. room of the VIP Club one night this spring.)
Jordan didn’t go for the Benetton Girls Gone Wild: the fake tans, the anorexic birds with enormous breasts, the ones grinding with every son-of-an-attachÈ. When the daughter of a local hairdressing magnate showed up, Jordan was quick to recognize her and offer his sincerest “What’s up?”
But it wasn’t the “celebrities” who fill Spank that he was interested in. “He got it bad, bad,” Ahmed says of Jordan’s taste in Lane Bryant models. “I’ve seen him with girls I would never look at….Not just chunky blondes. I seen him leave with a dark-skinned Indian girl.” More disgust.
But one time, perhaps the last time, Jordan tried to teach Ahmed a lesson in how to treat the ladies, all ladies.
Ahmed remembers how one Wednesday an enterprising female he “would never look at” kept trying to breach Jordan’s bouncer wall. Jordan had told the club’s security team he didn’t want to be disturbed. But the woman kept tossing her cell phone at his feet, behind Ahmed.
The woman did it once. Then twice. Then a third time.
“I told her not to do it again,” Ahmed remembers. “I kicked the phone very far. [Jordan] went and walked over and picked up her phone and gave it to her.” Jordan apologized to the woman.
“I felt like an asshole,” Ahmed says. CP
Haven’t Got Time for the Pain
Take it from Chicago: There are worse things than losing Michael Jordan. Such as not losing him.
by Neil Steinberg
No junior-high-school girl, freshly dumped by her boyfriend, ever threw herself down upon her bedspread and wept with the depth of desolation that a city first feels when deprived of its Michael Jordan. The vacant, aching, fade-to-black sense of loss is so great it deserves its own word: “Miked-over,” perhaps, or, better yet, “Jordanlessness.”
Chicago endured a plunge into the abyss not once, but twice. First, there was Jordan’s truly surprising, post-championship 1993 stroll away from basketball, leading to his quixotic dip into minor-league baseball. Then came the second, real goodbye in early 1999, after the owners of the Chicago Bulls failed to provide the adequate level of vigorous ass-kissing that a Michael Jordan requires.
Despite having had more foreshadowing than a 19th-century melodrama, the departure stung. “It’s all over now,” read a headline in my paper, the Chicago Sun-Times, over a column by an overwrought Jay Mariotti, who managed to compare Jordan to Lake Michigan, the Hancock Building, and Rush Street, all in the lead paragraph.
“He is going away,” wept Mariotti, unconsciously mimicking the plaintive cadences of our anonymous, brokenhearted ‘tween, “leaving behind only a statue.”
Regular citizens don’t share the bottomless devastation common among sports columnists, who can work up a lather over a utility infielder’s hurt toe. Yet we still wonder what it means when Jordan takes his ball and goes home—or, rather, goes to his next professional home, because he never seems to be at his actual home in suburban Chicago, despite constant claims to want to spend more time with his family. Perhaps after Chicago gets a casino.
Not having Jordan around is unquestionably bad for business. Bad for bars, restaurants, ticket brokers, T-shirt stores, TV ratings, and, above all, the NBA, which can’t seem to stretch any of its ungainly new talent to reach knee-high on the Jordan scale.
Then there is the psychic cost to a city. Just as the inevitable payment for the thrill of drugs is the agony of withdrawal, so the flip side of the “He’s ours” hubris of acquiring one’s Jordan is the glum sense of abandonment that comes with his departure. He’s gone. Didn’t he love us?
That isn’t as pathological as it sounds. Memories of Jordan’s feats make it impossible for Chicagoans to be entirely cynical about the globe-straddling corporate behemoth that is Michael Jordan. There was indeed beauty. There was poetry. Those twisting, ball-shifting levitations to the basket, those tongue-lolling, legs-blurring drives. You had to be dead not to be awed. The city rejoiced—at the height there was a wonderful sense of inevitability to championship games. We couldn’t lose. We might be 5 points down with six seconds to play, but the Bulls would come up with something. They always did. Even if the game was won by a John Paxson 3-pointer as the buzzer sounded, it was still Jordan’s doing. Moses may raise his staff, but it is God who parts the sea.
His good lingers here, not only in memory but also in the image of the city. Jordan seemed to finally kill the Al Capone, Roaring ’20s view of Chicago. No longer do hotel clerks in the French countryside smirk, “Ah Chicago,” and then make their fingers into a little tommy gun and go, “Rat-tat-tat.” Now they smile and say, “Mikhel Jerdan.” Children in remote Chinese villages know him.
That said, some of us were secretly glad to see Jordan go and dazzle somebody else for a change. Those of us with lives outside of sports could grow bored with all Jordan, all the time. Even the six championships—well, they got to be a tad repetitive toward the end. If you think of Michael Jordan as God—and who doesn’t?—there are those kneeling on the rail, their faces wet with tears and burning red with rapture. And those happy to skip church on Sunday and do the crossword puzzle while wolfing down a big cheese omelet.
I don’t know how much Jordan will have rubbed off on Washington, D.C. Babe Ruth was a coach for the Brooklyn Dodgers at the end, but who remembers that? To the rest of the world, Washington will still be the charm bracelet of the U.S. government or, if we dig deep, Marion Barry lighting up that crack pipe.
So why get worked up? The sting passes. It does. Even the economic dip is temporary. The blighted West Side of Chicago, which bloomed into upscale condos and flashy restaurants under the Jordan heat lamp, did not slide into decay in the four years since he left. One assumes that the area around the MCI Center won’t, either.
Washington has an advantage in having had only the geriatric Jordan. Just as a weakened virus doesn’t sicken you, but rather acts as a vaccine, so getting the tertiary Jordan will make his vanishing much more tolerable—after the requisite brief period of grasping at the empty air and kissing the cold, gray ash.
My only advice is to maintain your dignity as best you can. There are 50 guys who used to date Madonna, and the jerkiness of each one can be immediately gauged by how quickly he offers up particulars. A certain discretion—a melancholy understanding of the fickle ways of fame, success, and the world—is as flattering to a city as it is to a person. There is no point in trying to claim Jordan. He belongs—ahem—to us, and to those who buy Nike shoes, and wear Hanes underwear, and…
You’ll survive. The reputations of cities are surprisingly resilient—I’m half-expecting, after a few years, for Jordan to fade and Capone to come back strong. Time may even prove there was a certain kindness in Jordan’s moving down the pike. Sure, he has his aura, now. But Jack Dempsey was a big deal, too, and he ended up greeting guests at casinos. The future for Jordan, the inveterate gambler, is still a facedown card, and while his leaving will be painful, my guess is that it will not be as painful as it would have been had he stuck around. CP
Going for Broke
The Jordan story sometimes ends with Chapter 11.
by Dave McKenna
Abe Pollin may never divulge exactly what caused him to kick Michael Jordan to the curb. But Pollin could argue that he did it to save his business. Even before Jordan’s relationship with the Wizards broke down, his off-court portfolio was filled with examples—from far and near—of Jordan-affiliated projects not living up to their hype.
There were high-profile failures such as MVP.com, the Web site Jordan founded in January 2000 with fellow superstar athletes John Elway and Wayne Gretzky to hawk sporting goods. Jordan’s name wasn’t enough to get Internet shoppers to pay retail, and the company ran through a reported $145 million in venture capital within a year. Jordan bailed from MVP.com in May 2001.
And his name wasn’t enough to keep Michael Jordan’s Restaurant in Chicago, his first food venture, afloat. That eatery shut its doors in late 1999, with partners Gene and Joseph Silverberg accusing Jordan of working against them and causing the failure of the business, and Jordan accusing the Silverbergs of watering down his brand by trying to change the name of the outfit to Sammy Sosa’s.
Jordan came to D.C. in January 2000, just after the restaurant closing, to acquire his share of Pollin’s NBA franchise. But that wasn’t Jordan’s first ownership stake in the area. In 1995, he became the majority owner of a Nissan dealership in Glen Burnie, Md. Pat Pascarella, identified in a February 1997 Washington Post story as Jordan’s partner in the auto business, said that Michael Jordan Nissan had sold an average of about 60 cars a month in its first two years with the superstar at the helm.
That’s a middling sales figure for a dealership in a densely populated area. But, Pascarella told the Post, Jordan had plans to gussy up a “no-class” operation, and sales increases would surely follow. The scheme called for spending $3.5 million rebuilding the showroom at Michael Jordan Nissan with a basketball theme, including hoops, a scoreboard to keep a tally on sales, and a viewing room where children could sit on bleachers and, Pascarella said, “watch Jordan highlights on a large screen TV while mom and dad shop.”
Once that renovation was completed, Pascarella said, Jordan would buy up other dealerships in the area, and maybe even stop by on occasion. “I’d imagine he’d like to come and see his investment,” Pascarella said.
But before he’d followed through on any of those plans, Jordan bailed from the dealership, selling to the Sheehy chain by the end of 1997.
“There was no rebuilding by [Jordan], and as far as we know, Michael Jordan never visited the dealership,” says Mike Harrison, the current general manager of what is now known as Sheehy Nissan. Jordan continues to operate dealerships in North Carolina, but he never bought any other points in this market. (Jordan could not be reached for comment about the dealership and his other business ventures.)
Then there were Jordan’s golf and bowling ventures. In 1993, he founded Michael Jordan Golf Centers, pitched to urban planners as a national effort to introduce minorities to the country-club sport. The first step was a Jordan Golf Center in Aurora, Ill. But the plans for a national rollout were never realized, and by 1997, with the links project foundering, Jordan let AMF Bowling, a Richmond-based subsidiary of Goldman Sachs, absorb Jordan Golf Centers. AMF Bowling had only recently gone public, and its stock price rose to $31. “[B]owling has been part of my family’s recreational life, so associating with the biggest and best bowling brand is a nice plus,” Jordan said in announcing his partnership with AMF, which would include Michael Jordan bowling and golf camps and a Michael Jordan scholarship fund.
The alliance, however, didn’t pan out. Among the many major missteps AMF made was launching a Michael Jordan bowling ball in 1998. The ball, dubbed the MJ Slam, was embossed with “23” and was colored orange and engraved with grooves to make it look like a basketball. The digits and color were kosher, but the American Bowling Congress, the national overseer of the sport, refused to sanction the unorthodox grooves. A banned ball is useless to the pool of league bowlers who buy their own, and AMF quickly yanked it off the market.The Jordan scholarship fund and bowling and golf camps never got going. In July 2001, with shares trading for around 5 cents, the company filed for bankruptcy protection. Jordan Golf properties were unloaded during AMF’s reorganization; anybody wanting a remnant of Jordan’s bowling excursion can look to eBay, where unused MJ Slams, which once had a list price of more than $150, are hawked as collectibles for around $40.
If Pollin’s at all worried about the post-Jordan prognosis for his franchise, he might take solace in what happened in Glen Burnie. Jordan’s former dealership has thrived without the superstar. According to the sales staff, Sheehy Nissan is now the biggest Nissan retailer in the state, averaging 100 to 150 sales per month. Harrison attributes the hike to a sticker-pricing strategy that was put in place after Jordan got out. “We call it ëthe Sheehy Markdown,’” he says. “When he was here, they might have had the ëJordan Markup.’”
Taking a Pass
Assessing Citizen Jordan
By Josh Levin
Michael Jordan’s supporters and critics can battle about the extent and importance of his legacy as a Wizard, both on the court and in the front office. But when it comes to Jordan’s impact on civic life in the District, there’s almost no legacy to debate. D.C. constituencies explain what Jordan didn’t do for them:
Lawrence Guyot, statehood advocate
“He’s given us the exact example of how celebrity should not be used for civic engagement.”
Laurie Collins, Repair Klingle Road coalition member
“With Michael Jordan gone, we’ll have one less out-of-state tag on Klingle Road.”
Children’s Hospital spokesperson
“He hasn’t been to the hospital. We’ve had various Wizards that have come at various times over the past five years—Juwan Howard, Michael Smith, and Jerry Stackhouse.”
Terry Lee, Department of Parks and Recreation spokesperson
“We’ve done a lot of work with the Wizards as an organization and the Mystics. The dancers participate in our summer kickoff. But we’ve had no activities with Michael Jordan per se.”
Kevin “Kato” Hammond, editor of Take Me Out to the Go-Go magazine
“I can’t say anything directly, but indirectly, a group called Northeast Groovers redid their rendition of ‘I Want to Be Like Mike.’ As for apparel, everyone was wearing Wizards jerseys, which they won’t be wearing no more. It was cool to be wearing a Wizards jersey. That’s indirectly. As far as directly, they would probably put him on the same level as Anthony Williams.”
Golden Triangle BID
Paige Muller, director of programming (via e-mail)
“None of our Ambassadors, nor anyone on our staff, has had direct contact with Michael Jordan. There was, however, a recent MJ sighting in the Golden Triangle. Clean Team Supervisor Vanessa Agnew was in the BID truck at the corner of 21st Street, NW and M Street when he pulled up in his car along side her. He was hiding his face, but Vanessa recognized him and he smiled and said ‘Hi’ when he noticed her looking at him.”
D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services
Alan Etter, spokesperson
“I talked to a bunch of guys over at Engine 2, which is right across the street from the MCI Center. They tried to contact him several times, but they never got a response.”
Ben’s Chili Bowl
Ben Ali Jr., owner
“I’ve never seen him here, interestingly enough. I don’t know what his cuisine is. Darrell Walker used to come in here real regularly. We get Mike Tyson, Iverson, Strickland, Jahidi, Mystics, all the rest of them. Either you love hot dogs and half-smokes—or seafood.”
It’s Gotta be the Shoes
Seven people wearing Jordan gear say how they feel about his leaving.
interviews by Josh Levin
Montez Dove, 10
Blue headband with white Airman logo, blue shirt with black Airman logo, white shoes with silver Airman logo
“He’s my favorite player. Back in the day, I like when he used to dunk and make all his three-points. He couldn’t dunk that much like he used to.”
Kelvin Davall, 36
Jordan jersey with blue-and-silver numbers and Airman logo
“I’m pissed off. I don’t even know why he was dismissed. He brought a good work ethic and class to the organization. I hope they lose every game from now until the end of time.”
Jon Robbins, 14
Light blue Jordan T-shirt
“He’s getting really old, but he was the best thing to happen to the team. He gave them the feeling of winning.”
Dean Hayes, 22
Clerk at Lids in Fashion Centre at Pentagon City
Jordan jersey with small 23 on the front and silver numbers on the back
“Just knowing that Jordan is president of basketball operations will attract the top free agents….I think they’re gonna plummet, man I really think so. What’s the question with giving him his position back? It shouldn’t be a question. It’s gonna go back to the old Bullets.”
Odie Allen, 18
White Jordan T-shirt
“I don’t care too much about Michael Jordan. I don’t like the Wizards.”
Kan Zhou, 25
Silver Spring, Md.
Clerk at Silver Time kiosk in City Place mall
White Wizards jersey T-shirt
“I was thinking of getting the jersey. They have them here for $50. They only have the white jersey. I wanted the blue one.”
Carlos Martinez, 20
White retro Bullets hat with 23 on the back
“I’m from L.A.; I like the Lakers. I just like the hat because it says Bullets.”
Michael Jordan Tried to Steal My Date
by Greg Seigle
It’s just before 10 p.m. Tuesday Jan. 8, 2002, and my cell phone rings—it’s Christine, an out-of-town heartthrob, calling from the Four Seasons Hotel. She’s just arrived in D.C. for a brief business trip and wants to meet for a late-night bite.
I’m busy writing a story for a news service, but it’s hard to resist. She’s famished, so we agree she’ll go ahead to Cafe Milano and I’ll meet her there in a half-hour.
About the same time we’re on the phone, Michael Jordan is facing a larger-than-usual swarm of reporters at the MCI Center after playing in a 96-88 win over the Los Angeles Clippers. The morning papers have just revealed that his wife of 13 years, Juanita Jordan, has filed for divorce in Waukegan, Ill. A Chicago Sun-Times reporter asks if his divorce is inevitable. “None of your business,” Jordan snarls, according to a subsequent account in the Washington Post.
As I’m striding toward the wood-framed glass doors of Milano, sucking on a breath mint, it occurs to me that Christine probably won’t be sitting alone. She’s a svelte, attractive woman; the vultures of Milano will surely have latched on to her. I walk faster.
Standing at the entrance, scanning tables, I quickly spot Christine—eating at a round table ringed with six big men. That’s really all I notice—that these guys are big. She’s talking, laughing, oblivious to my arrival.
“Great,” I mutter, wanting to spin around and split. Still, I’m anxious to catch up. So I suck in a deep breath and beeline for her, hoping she’ll jump up, throw her arms around me, and, after a quick adieu to the big boys, sashay off to another table with me.
“Hey, Christine,” I murmur.
Christine’s caught off guard. Her wide-eyed expression seems to say, Oh shit! I forgot about you! She doesn’t stand.
“This is my friend Greg,” she announces timidly, flipping her hand at me. Silence.
“Hey there,” I mutter, smiling meekly and nodding toward the men. No response.
One guy—a burly bald man who reminds me of Russian-mafia thugs I encountered during a reporting stint in the former Soviet Union—shoots me a sustained “get the fuck out of here” stare. Another man, curly-haired, scurries away to summon the manager.
Christine is flustered. “Grab a seat,” she says, even though there are no chairs available.
Suddenly, I realize that one of the men sneering at me, the one seated to the left of Christine, is Michael Jordan.
My boyish instinct is to burst into a big smile, stick out my right hand and exclaim: “Oh my God! Michael Jordan! How the hell are you?”
But the macho man inside me wants to growl: “Dude, are you hitting on my date?”
The restaurant’s manager sidles up and whispers: “Sir, if you could, please move away. The gentlemen want to conduct some business.”
I look to Christine for a clue. Her eyes dart towards Jordan’s, then back at mine. She grins sheepishly.
Just then, two people stand up to leave, causing a timely distraction. “Look,” I tell Christine, as soon as I can speak without anyone hearing. “I’m going to leave, OK? It’s Michael Jordan, for crying out loud. Go for it. Have a good time.”
But just as I’m turning away, Christine surprises me—and everyone else—by grabbing my forearm. “No!” she blurts out. “Don’t go! Hold on.”
She abruptly stands up and bids the group farewell, hoisting her half-finished bowl of shrimp ravioli and glass of champagne as she leaves.
The waiter scrambles to react, and Christine and I head for a table of our own. The move happens so fast I don’t think to ask for a table far, far away. Big mistake.
We settle into the table right next to Jordan’s—Christine snares the seat facing him as I sit to the side—and it seems all eyes are upon us. Including his.
I figure MJ and his pals will soon grow tired of ogling Christine, who’s wearing a strapless minidress and knee-high black boots. After a half-hour, however, it becomes clear they’re not going to stop.
“Jeez, I’m not that good-looking,” Christine says.
Despite the distractions, we’re mostly engrossed in conversation. At one point, she’s voluntarily saying she’s attracted to me. “It’s the champagne,” I laugh nervously. She knows I’m gaga for her.
Still, it’s impossible to ignore the table of men next to us, especially that guy with the poster-boy smirk. Christine isn’t blameless, either. I notice her occasionally smiling Jordan’s way. The second or third time, I call her on it.
“Is there a problem?” I ask.
“I’m sorry. It’s just that he keeps staring at me,” she says.
I swing my head toward Jordan; he tips his head back and puffs on a cigar, pretending not to notice.
I can’t believe this is happening—I’m getting dissed by one of the most popular icons in Washington…the country…no, the entire world! Isn’t he supposed to be a role model?
While Christine is off in the ladies’ room, I catch Jordan’s eye for a millisecond. His upper lip curls, as though I were some rookie trying to challenge him on the court.
When Christine gets back, she’s clearly basking in the attention from the other table. I figured she made her choice when she left Jordan’s table. My instincts now, though, tell me she may be reconsidering. I suggest we leave, but she says she wants to stay.
Now it’s my turn to go to the bathroom. When I re-emerge, the curly-haired man is sitting next to her in one of our unused chairs. I sit down and engage in some polite banter. He’s Tim Grover, Jordan’s personal trainer. Grover seems unimpressed by the news that my cousin Leslie is married to Wizards backup guard Hubert Davis.
So I stand up, extend my right hand, and announce, “Well, it was nice to meet you, Tim. Have a good night.” He glides back to Jordan’s table.
I sit there stewing. I’ve admired Jordan from afar for many years. Now that I’ve encountered him face to face he’s…uh, he’s hitting on my date?
Before I can call for the check, the men at Jordan’s table rise to leave, hovering over us and fluffing their expensive outerwear.
A tall bald man in a full-length white cashmere coat remains behind, mumbling, “See you soon” to Jordan and the others as they shuffle out. He takes a seat at the bar, orders a drink, and swivels around in his stool so he faces my side.
Minutes later, Christine and I get up to go. As I take a few steps ahead of her to grab the door, the man in the cashmere coat slips behind me. When I turn around, he’s whispering in her ear, handing her a note of some sort. Christine quickly grabs it and stuffs it in her pocket. The man scurries away.
“Hey, what was that he handed you?” I ask Christine, acting amused.
“Oh, you mean this?” she says, playfully handing me a card adorned with the Wizards logo. It’s the card of Fred Whitfield, identified as a “legal counsel” for the team.
“What did he say to you?” I ask, bravely handing the card back.
“Ummm…he said, ëWhen that guy drops you off, call this phone number and we’ll send the limo to pick you up,’” Christine responds.
“Really? Wow. Are you going to call?”
“I don’t know yet,” she replies.
Christine and I walk outside into the freezing night, where a black, chrome-trimmed limo is idling out front, warm and cozy. We climb into my nearby car, a dented Ford Taurus with frost bits dotting the windshield.
“Brrrr!” Christine chirps, rubbing her upper arms and exhaling thin clouds of steam.
I drive her to her hotel. There, Christine surprisingly lays one on me, a long, slow kiss that, after it ends a minute or three later, stirs me to inquire whether I should see her upstairs.
“No, it’s late, and I have to get up early,” she says. My car clock reads 1:24 a.m.
She jumps out and I watch her walk down the long corridor of the Four Seasons before driving away, fighting off the urge to park nearby and see if the limo cruises up.
The next afternoon, unable to contain my curiosity, I call Christine and ask point blank: “What happened after I dropped you off?”
“Now, Greg, what kind of a woman do you think I am?” she says, laughing.
There’s a brief, awkward pause before she pipes up again.
“What, do you think I’d actually go hook up with him?”
I want to believe Christine, but it’s difficult, especially after she tells me that she’s suddenly decided to extend her stay in D.C. a few days for reasons other than work—and will be busy until Friday.
Now I’m scrambling to check my Wizards schedule. Yep, the team is in town—until Friday, when it departs for Milwaukee.
Later, Christine informs me she spent part of her “mini-vacation” gallivanting about Washington with the Jordan gang. She swears it was just tea, dinner, and the like.
“He’s a very nice man,” Christine alleges.
“Do you think he was nice to me?” I snap back.
“I guess not,” she concedes.
I haven’t gone out with Christine again, although we still keep in minimal touch.
In my jilted eyes, Jordan’s a role model all right—a role model for spoiled athletes who think they and their hangers-on can run roughshod over anyone. He has to dominate, even in casual social situations. And he’s remarkably thorough about it. At Cafe Milano, when I received the bill, I couldn’t help noticing that the ravioli and champagne Christine had picked up at Jordan’s table had been transferred to my tab. CP
June 17, 2000
The Wizards agree in principle to move their training camp to the campus of the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. The deal ends a seven-year run for the Wizards at Shepherd College in Shepherdstown, W.Va., 77 miles outside the District. Wilmington, which is 383 miles away from D.C., is Michael Jordan’s hometown.
Feb. 9, 2003
After getting a surprise starting spot at tipoff, Jordan scores 20 points to pass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the leading scorer in All-Star Game history. On his way to the milestone, Jordan misses his first seven shots, gets four shots blocked, misses a dunk, joins a tight-Wizards-jersey-wearing Mariah Carey for a halftime ceremony, and sees his apparent game-winning shot undone when Kobe Bryant ties the game from the free-throw line. Jordan comes up empty on three other attempted game-winners, and the Eastern Conference All Stars lose 155-145 in double overtime. Josh Levin
June 13, 2001
In a summer pickup game, maniacal defender Ron Artest breaks two of Jordan’s ribs, putting His Comebackness on the shelf for four weeks. The setback presages the numerous ailments that will crop up during Jordan’s two-year playing career with the Wizards, including tendinitis in both knees, swelling in the right knee, wrist tendinitis, lower back spasms, and a strained left foot.
Oct. 26, 2001
According to a report by Michael Leahy of the Washington Post, Jordan goes on an all-night gambling binge at Connecticut’s Mohegan Sun casino hours after the Wizards’ final preseason game against the Boston Celtics. Down $500,000 at one point, MJ goes on one of his patented late runs. When he stops gambling, at 8 a.m., Jordan is about $600,000 in the black. Josh Levin
Put a Fork Next to Him
The Bradford Exchange begins promoting the “Michael Jordan’s Comeback” collector’s plate series. The plates, which commemorate MJ’s “triumphant return to the game he loves,” are strictly limited to 95 firing days and priced at $34.95 each, plus shipping and handling. All eight platters feature three images of Jordan in blue and bronze two action shots and one “confident portrait stance.” The fifth plate: “The Ultimate Wizard.” Josh Levin
Jordan Stops Sharing
March 1, 2003
Rookie Juan Dixon has his best game of the year, scoring 27 points as the Wizards beat Chicago, 101-93, to even their record at 29-29. Jordan, in a strong supporting performance, puts up 17 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists—then complains that he had to pass the ball because Dixon “got us into stagnant situations.” Over the next five games, Jordan’s assist totals are 2, 2, 0, 3, and 1. The Wizards lose four of those five, Dixon never scores more than 14 points in a game the rest of the season, and the team never reaches .500 again. Tom Scocca
Jordan for Two
April 2, 2002
Jordan gets his career low, 2 points, in a 113-93 loss to the Lakers. (His previous low-water mark, 6 points, also came when he was a Wizard.) On April 4, Jordan decides to take the rest of the season off to rest his injured knees. On Dec. 15, 2002, he scores 2 points again.
Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
Jan. 1, 2003
In a computer-enhanced Gatorade commercial, the wily present-day Jordan faces off against the high-flying ’80s-vintage MJ in a game of one-on-one. The spry, dunking Jordan sports the trademark red Bulls No. 23, but the older Jordan wears a plain black T-shirt and shorts with a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it Wizards logo. Even collegiate Jordan, who makes a brief cameo appearance at the end of the ad, gets an era-appropriate North Carolina jersey. Josh Levin