The Third Coming?

March 19, 2001

Don't listen to him. Listen to me. Michael Jordan does too want
to come back--and he wants Charles Barkley to come with him.

I know, I know, Jordan is saying what he always says: "There's a
99.9 percent chance that I am not coming back." But trust me, you
could march the Ohio State band through Jordan's 00.1% chance.
What's more, don't forget something else he said last week: "I
will never say never."

According to a source very close to Jordan, he is "90 percent
committed" to making a comeback next season with the Washington
Wizards, for whom he would play for the minimum $1 million to
clear more room under the salary cap for a top-drawer free agent.
The Round Mound of Sound, TNT analyst Barkley, would quit that
gig and play for the minimum too, providing he can lose the
equivalent of a ninth-grader. Having accidentally swallowed the
MetLife blimp on his way to 337 pounds, he's already down 30
pounds in the last month.

For some reason Jordan wouldn't return my calls. (Perhaps he lost
my cell phone number.) Barkley said "No comment," but couldn't
help adding, "Put it this way: It would take extraordinary
circumstances to get me out of retirement." If Jordan isn't
extraordinary, then Madonna is a nun. The source says Jordan
faces two obstacles--"convincing his wife and getting out of
ownership."

Unlike the NHL--in which Pittsburgh Penguins superstar Mario
Lemieux was allowed by the Board of Governors to retain his
ownership in the club after returning to the ice--the NBA
prohibits a player from having a stake in a team. Jordan
reportedly owns 5% to 10% of the Wizards through Lincoln
Holdings, which owns the Washington Capitals and a large interest
in a few other toys. That makes it a little sticky, but it's
nothing his Greyhound full of accountants can't jury-rig, if he
wanted to get back his stake in the team after he retires again.

Barkley and Jordan have been shooting and working out
religiously; one report out of Chicago had Jordan working out six
hours a day. He played hoops four times in six nights last week
at the Gainey Village Health Club and Spa, near Barkley's house
in Scottsdale, Ariz. "He looked 25 years old," said a health club
employee.

Why would he come back again? Three reasons.

One, he sees Lemieux having the time of his life while proving he
can still bring it. And don't think Jordan wouldn't love to slap
around Allen Iverson and Kobe Bryant like rented mules.

Two, he loves to have fun. And Jordan has the most fun when he's
turning pro basketball players into soggy lumps on the court and
hanging with his teammates afterward. He has always wanted to
play with Barkley, one of his best friends in the world, and
Barkley has always wanted to play with him.

Three, he hates to lose. As the Wizards' president of basketball
operations, he's losing only slightly fewer games than the
Washington Generals did. He doesn't want to wait two or three
years to win. He wants to win yesterday. Has the NBA East ever
been riper? Has the league ever been weaker? You think he's
really having nightmares about Dallas point guard Steve Nash? All
right, maybe about Nash's hair, but not about Nash's game.

In the last three weeks Jordan has unloaded Juwan Howard and Rod
Strickland. He'll probably dump Mitch Richmond, now 108 years
old, in the summer. That gets him a few million under the cap.
With a good calculator, he might be able to sign a big-name free
agent, like, oh, say, Chris Webber. You don't think Mr. Bored
would sell his mother for a chance to play with Jordan? Not only
that, but it also gets Webber out of Sacramento and back to
Washington, a city he played in and loved.

Don't start with the Why would Jordan ruin the perfect ending he
already wrote for his career? That stuff is for sportswriters to
worry about over their free lobster bisque. If there's one thing
Jordan loves, it's a dare. The thing that makes him want to do
this at 38 is the same thing that made him want to ride minor
league buses at 30 and jump over picket fences at eight. To see
if he can.

That's all it would be. Just a double-dare-ya with his buddy
Charles. Something to do when forever starts sounding too damn
long. Isn't it what you'd do if you knew you were still the best
player in the game?

So turn on your TV again, come out of the darkness and raise your
glass. Here's to the 00.1% in life.

COLOR PHOTO: DANA FINEMAN/SYGMA

According to a source, Jordan is "90 percent committed" to
making a comeback with the Wizards.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
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HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
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Eagle (-2)
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Bogey (+1)
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