Transition Game At 40, Michael Jordan is job hunting. Is he a good hire?

May 11, 2003

Scarcely had Michael Jordan left the NBA than he was back, once
again the most talked-about man in basketball. The New York Times
reported last weekend that Jordan was close to breaking ties with
the Wizards, which led to news that he may hook on with the
expansion Charlotte franchise, owned by Jordan's friend Robert
Johnson.

Whichever front office hires Jordan--if Charlotte does bring him
on or the Wizards restore him to his position as president of
basketball operations--questions have been raised by his most
recent stint on the court. The most important: Has Jordan's
reputation as a team player been severely damaged? At 40, with
his playing days finally behind him, Jordan cuts a much rougher
figure than the manicured Mike who announced his second
"unretirement" in the fall of 2001.

Before his return there was fear that "MJ Part III" would flop.
Nattering nabobs had images of Jordan dribbling the ball off his
foot, flubbing dunks or, in a karmic role reversal, getting taken
to school by a new generation of airborne stars. Turned out
Jordan gave a fine accounting of himself on the floor. He scored
more than 20 points a game in each of his final two seasons and
held his own against players half his age.

And yet while it won't show up in the video tributes and career
statlines, Jordan did plenty to scuff his mystique. The various
roles he held with Washington--he was, at once, the star player,
the de facto general manager, the man who handpicked the coach
and a former minority owner--added up to more than his image
could bear. As with another larger-than-life Wizard, when the
curtain was pulled back on Jordan, we glimpsed a mere mortal.

Early in the 2002-03 season SI learned that Jordan, then a sixth
man, told coach Doug Collins that he would no longer come off the
bench. (He started the rest of the year.) According to the Times,
Jordan made it clear to teammates that their willingness to pass
to him would bear on their playing time. Point guard Larry
Hughes, who shot early and often, was replaced by the more
submissive Tyronn Lue. That Jordan was expected to return to the
executive suite after the season heightened the climate of
trepidation. Reportedly, it was guard Richard Hamilton's
willingness to stand up to Jordan that precipitated his being
traded to the Pistons last summer.

As a leader Jordan proved more tormentor than mentor. Many
Washington players got the business end of a Jordan harangue, but
he designated second-year forward Kwame Brown as the whipping
boy, referring to him, as reported by The Washington Post, as a
"flaming faggot." A source told SI that Jordan ritually reduced
Brown to tears in front of the team. Brown, whom Jordan took with
the first pick in the 2001 draft, showed flashes of brilliance,
but his confidence was lacerated by a player who was once his
idol. "Michael was tough," Wizards assistant John Bach tells SI.
"But that's just who he is, attempting to make [his teammates]
better."

The schisms that divided the Wizards players reverberated through
the organization, and Jordan was to meet this week with team
chairman and majority owner Abe Pollin to discuss what happens
next. The Times said Pollin and other executives have expressed
concern over Jordan's work ethic as an executive. (On Monday,
Wizards owner Ted Leonsis declined comment to SI.) As for a
position with Charlotte (or any other franchise), one wonders
what capacity would suit Jordan. He hasn't distinguished himself
as a talent evaluator, and it seems doubtful he would sublimate
his ego and accept a "consultant" role bereft of power.

After Jordan's final game last month, Jerry Stackhouse, one of
the few Washington players publicly critical of His Majesty,
announced that a "new era" was at hand. He may not have known how
right he was. --L. Jon Wertheim

COLOR ILLUSTRATION: ILLUSTRATION BY STEVE BRODNER

"The ballplayers were dubbed knights of the Royal House of
Orange."--KNIGHT GAMES, PAGE 24

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
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