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Michael Jordan spent much of the last few weeks away from his teammates, pedaling away on a stationary bike on the sidelines. That provided a fitting image for the Wizards during Jordan’s run here. In the end, and it sure smells like the end, the team really only spun its wheels.
Wizards games were more interesting this year than in recent memory, all because of Jordan’s presence, not his play. But throw away the hype and the Jordan Wizards become just the latest carnival act put on by a franchise with a history of carnival acts.
Although the playoffs aren’t in the equation for the foreseeable future, the current Wizards still have the opportunity to measure up to some of the yardsticks set by their predecessors. Saturday’s 3-point win over the Memphis Grizzlies, who have gone toe to toe with the Bulls all year in the race to be the worst team in the league, gave the Wizards 35 W’s on the year.
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So if they win three of their remaining games, the Wizards will match the 38-44 record of the 1987-1988 Bullets. That was one of the more popular teams in franchise history. And just like the current crop, that squad owed its popularity to factors other than winning; rather, the fans were drawn to the Capital Centre by the freak-show lineup. The Bullets showcased both the tallest player in the league, 7-foot-7 Manute Bol, and the shortest, 5-foot-3 Tyrone “Muggsy” Bogues. All these years later, suspicions remain that owner Abe Pollin, in a Bill Veeck state of mind, wanted the 1987 first-round pick used on Bogues purely for the marketing opportunities his diminutivity presented. The organization admitted its mistake by trading Bogues after just one season.
If this year’s Wizards can win four more games, they’ll tie the 39-43 record of the 1980 squad. That team also featured another No. 23 whose best days were behind him and elsewhere: the very overweight and very over-the-hill ex-scoring-champ “Super” John Williamson. Williamson’s jersey is retired—by the New Jersey Nets.
Jordan’s less-than-glorious tenure as a player here means that he can be lumped together not only with Williamson, but with a host of other past-their-prime marquee stars who watered down their trademarks in a Washington uniform. Hall of Famers Dave Bing and Moses Malone, and should-be Hall of Famer Bernard King, are in that pack.
But as far as local legacies are concerned, Jordan is a leg down on those guys, of course. Barring some miraculous turnaround, Jordan should also be remembered as the worst chief executive the franchise has ever had.
This is, after all, his third season with the Wizards, the first two coming as president of basketball operations. So the 2001-2002 squad is nothing if not his team. Because of his sudden departure with a bad knee, a skeleton crew as pitiful as the one that put up a franchise-worst 19 wins last year will finish this season out. The starting lineup of the Jordan-less Wizards—Christian Laettner, Jahidi White, Chris Whitney, Richard Hamilton, and Courtney Alexander—has a combined scoring average of 52.4 points per game through the Grizzlies contest.
That sad stat alone gives the lie to one of the myths that was heavily promoted last fall when, after a ridiculous delay, Jordan resigned his presidency and made his playing comeback official. At that time, Jordan implied that he was lacing up the Air Jordans in order to get a better vantage point to judge the tools of his teammates/employees. This was about being a responsible boss, not vanity.
But from the opening tipoff this season it’s been clear that Jordan was here to be the Man, not the Judge. When in the lineup, he took most of the shots, and his number was called for buzzer beaters, despite all the evidence that his shot ain’t what it was: Jordan hit 41 percent of his shots this year, putting himself above only rookie Kwame Brown in field goal percentage. He also ranks next to last in 3-point shooting. Again, he edged out Brown, who missed his one attempt from behind the arc.
And when Jordan wasn’t on the floor, he wasn’t into the judging thing, either. Of late, in fact, he has exhibited the same amount of apathy toward the Wizards organization as a player that he did throughout his presidential tenure. In his front-office days, remember, Jordan rarely showed up for games and did all his personnel work, such as interviewing coaches, in Chicago.
During the NCAA tournament, jocky pundits ripped Bobby Knight for not calling guys he hadn’t coached in two seasons to wish them luck on the road to the Final Four.
Jordan, according to recent reports, not only didn’t wish his teammates/employees luck in gaining a then-tenable playoff spot without him when his knee went bum; he didn’t even let them know that he was, in the parlance of today’s athlete, “shutting it down” for the year. He simply told coach Doug Collins it was over and then stopped showing up for games. Collins said after Saturday’s win over the Grizzlies that he hadn’t even heard from Jordan since the injury was announced, three days earlier.
But, even with Jordan now in absentia, the tickets for the remaining games have already been bought and paid for by the fans. Regardless of the team’s losing record and its dismal future prospects, the year with Jordan was a stunner at the box office. So maybe the best way Pollin could commemorate the proceedings would be to hang an “Attendance Leader” banner from the rafters at MCI Center for the Wizards, just as he has for his ever-futile WNBA squad, the Mystics, season after losing season. —Dave McKenna