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Fun Street hasn’t been much fun for scalpers this basketball season. The current crop of Wizards couldn’t get fans buzzing without a bongand Chris Webber took his with him to Sacramento. Even worse, because of the home team’s anti-magnetism, not even local appearances by Shaq and the Answer brought enough folks downtown to spark a seller’s market.
Yet on Easter Sunday, as the Wizards were getting ready to play lifelessly in their penultimate home game of the worst season in franchise history, there was talk of a resurrection.
“We need him back bad,” one seller told me, while unloading a $40 Wizards ticketjust before tip-offfor the buyer’s opening bid of $5.
“Him,” even on this high holy day, is of course Michael Jordan.
The Jordan unretirement story has deflected attention away from the job performance of the Wizards’ president of basketball operations. To use his favorite number, that performance is 99.9 percent stinky. His apologists and biographers in the local media have said that Jordan won’t come back, because it would sully his legacy. The truth, as anybody who suffered through Sunday’s Cavaliers game can attest, is that he has to get back to playing to save his legacy. As is clear, what Jordan has done to his reputation since signing on here is analogous to what Janet Reno did to Mount Carmel.
The deceptively close 106-98 loss to Cleveland gave Washington its 61st lossthat’s 21 more than Jordan promised at the beginning of the season, when he asked fans and media to judge him by the 2000-2001 Wizards’ record.
Those sportswriters who don’t pay for their tickets see no problem with charging full price for an inferior product and, in their constant defense of Jordan, say that the woeful season is part of a plan. The flaw in that reasoning is that Jordan wouldn’t have bothered with that humiliating coach searchwhich ended with the signing of unmitigated disaster Leonard Hamilton to a multi-million-dollar contractif he had indeed been planning to lose. Gar Heard, an early Jordan fire whose own multi-million-dollar contract is still being paid off, could have lost almost as adeptly as Hamilton.
Jordan gets credited as somebody who knows his basketball history, so he should know that even in the age of free agency, no NBA team has ever won a championship after being totally overhauled. You can look it up. And, obviously, this team is as totaled as a rear-ended Pinto. The timeout feature “This Day in Wizards History” shown on the MCI Center scoreboard on Sunday had to go all the way back to 1979 to find something worth remembering. The only player Jordan has brought in who might stick in the NBA for any length of time is Courtney Alexander.
“I don’t concern myself with records,” the guard told the Washington Post after the Cleveland loss. Well, Alexander’s record already includes a conviction for assaulting the mother of his infant child, so he’s the right guy to take Rod Strickland’s place in the hearts of D.C. fansand cops.
So Jordan needs an out. And unretirement will give him that. (Deion Sanders wants out of Washington as much as Jordan. That’s the real reason he’s taking a pay cut to play baseball.) Sports radio is abuzz with reports that Jordan has been working out on his own to prepare for the comeback, and he’s even been spotted scrimmaging with the Wizards lately. It’s funny that every news photo or soundbite of him at practice finds him going against Laron Profit, who fills the same role with the Wizards that Texas A&M students do for that school’s football team: the 12th Man.
Comebacks almost always end badly.
When the Orioles’ Earl Weaver left his Florida tomato patch to get back in the Baltimore dugout, he lasted just a year and lost 100 games. Jim Palmer didn’t get out of spring training at 45 in 1991.
Bill Arnsparger, the architect of the great Giants defenses of the ’80s, came out of retirement to help with Redskins D two years ago but watched the team end up ranking 30th in the league. George Allen, the legendary Washington and Los Angeles coach who got blackballed by the NFL despite never having a losing season, took a job with Long Beach State. He died after getting Gatoraded by his players and catching pneumonia.
Boxing comebacks are the most frequentand the most cautionary. John L. Sullivan got back in the ring to fight James J. Corbett in New Orleans in 1892. The game had changed since Sullivan first quitMarquess of Queensberry rules were now in placeand he took a 21-round beating that ended with a knockout. James J. Jeffries was coaxed back into boxing as the Great White Hope to challenge champion Jack Johnson in 1910. He was honored with 15 rounds of pounding from Johnson. Joe Louis trashed his legacy with a post-comeback whupping from Ezzard Charles in 1950. And, most pitifully, Muhammad Ali laced up the gloves to get KO’d in 10 rounds by a tearful fan, then-champ Larry Holmes, in 1980.
When comic-book superhero the Green Lantern, who first retired in the early ’50s, put the costume back on a decade later to take on the Reaper, he got put into a coma. (Good news did come out of the Lantern’s injury, however: It led to the re-formation of the Justice Society of America.)
ABC’s Don Ohlmeyer came out of retirement to turn Monday Night Football around last season, but he instead oversaw the worst ratings in the program’s 31-year history before signing off again. When she was in her 80s, sexpot Mae West went in front of the camera again for the 1978 movie Sextette. Heard of it? Ava Gardner took a role in a network evening soap opera a few years later. George Martin of Beatles fame got back into the studio to turn the knobs for…Celine Dion.
The Beatles, thank goodness, never attempted a comeback. They didn’t want to sully their image. Dave McKenna