Basketball: Here Comes Mr Jordan - Again

27 Sep 2001 14:50 GMT

NOW Sport's Andy McKenzie welcomes back Michael Jordan to the basketball court for his third coming.

Jordan: Air time
Jordan: Air time
©Rick Stewart
Michael Jordan once said he would never play for any team other than Chicago Bulls.

Michael Jordan once said he would never play for any coach other than Phil Jackson.

Michael Jordan once said he would never play beyond his best years.

However, Michael Jordan also said never say never.

The news we were all expecting was finally confirmed on Tuesday - Michael Jordan will return to the basketball court for a third spell. Every sportswriter in America has had their say on the matter. Many think his return is a bad move, feeling he scripted the perfect ending back in 1998 and he's risking too much by putting his legacy on the line once more.

But that's the perfect world they've created. That's the perfect ending only the media and the fans are holding onto. It isn't the finale Jordan has chosen and who are they to stand in the way of someone who has done so much for the game and brought so much happiness to sports fans the world over?

If this is what Michael Jordan wants, then we owe him that much to let him be. Jordan's return to basketball is all good. It's good for the game to see its greatest exponent back where he belongs. It's good for the NBA, not only financially but in helping the league grow – nobody sells basketball like Mike.

It's almost certainly good for the Washington Wizards. But most importantly of all, it's good for Michael Jordan. For whatever reason, whether it's his 'love of the game' or desire to see the Wizards get back to respectability, it's what he wants to do.

And anyone who's writing off the greatest performer in the history of team sports obviously doesn't know the man. This isn't only the most talented, but also the most competitive player to ever play the game of basketball. This is the man who was written off after his return in 1995 ended in premature defeat at the hands of the Orlando Magic.

Back then he was told to leave while he still had some pride. Instead he came back stronger and a more determined player – leading the Bulls to three more NBA championships, winning three more scoring titles and three more Finals MVP awards.

Maybe he feels three is the magic number.

Jordan: Catch me if you can
Catch me if you can
©Brian Bahr

So Jordan is coming back to a Washington Wizards side that in a word, stinks. A team that won just 19 games last season. A 'supporting cast' led by a 19-year-old rookie in Kwame Brown, young enough to be his son.

Jordan has already told reporters that winning championships isn't everything. He is returning not only to feed his own competitive drive, but because he feels it's the best way he can serve his employers by taking the team forward.

Jordan's commitment to the Wizards has been questioned. He's been criticized for not attending enough games and disparaged for not taking the job seriously. In coming back to play for the Wizards, he's been told that he's not doing the best for the long-term future of the Wizards.

But ask the Wizards fans, who can barely contain their excitement at the thought of No 23 included in the Wizards lineup, if they think Jordan is doing the right thing. Ask the owners of the Wizards who've been unable to drag the team out of the gutter and who've struggled to grasp the spotlight in one of America's largest markets. Ask the people in the ticket booths, the marketing office, the merchandise store, the advertising people, if he's doing the right thing.

For the first time in years, the Wizards are a legitimate playoff threat. For the first time in recent memory, the Wizards will be regularly seen on television, will play in front of sell-out crowds wherever they go, but best of all for the fans who've been there through thin and thinner, they'll be fun to watch. Only for the presence of one Michael Jeffrey Jordan.

For the rest of the basketball-loving world, Jordan's return is at least intriguing, if not completely welcomed, by those fans who would've preferred him to have called it a day for good in 1998. And to think of Jordan taking on the new breed of stars who're slowly beginning to pick up his mantle - Kobe Bryant, Vince Carter, Allen Iverson and all.

As for messing with his legacy, that's not going to happen. No one can take away any of his unprecedented achievements. The history of sport is littered with players who have gone on past their prime, from Muhammad Ali to Willie Mays, from Kareem Abdul Jabbar to Magic Johnson.

The 10 scoring titles, the six championship rings, the 11 MVP trophies (regular season and Finals) and all the rest can't be dismissed. Jordan wouldn't have come back to be embarrassed by any of today's young and arrogant stars. He has too much pride.

Back in action: Jordan
Back in action: Jordan
©Doug Pesinge
Sure there'll be times when he struggles to keep pace with the Iversons and the Bryants. But even the 1998 Jordan struggled defensively against the quicker guards in the league.

The biggest test for Jordan will be trying to do it at a high level night-after-night without much help. An 82-game season will be tough for a 38-year-old to take. But John Stockton (who'll be 40 in March) and Karl Malone (38) have collectively missed just one game in the last two seasons and remain among the best players at their position in the league. It can be done.

We've seen in the past few weeks what part sport can play in helping people's lives getting back to normal. The terrorist disasters have hit Washington's economy hard.
The airport is still closed and tourism is suffering.

The atrocities happened the day Jordan indicated to reporters he'd be returning to the game. Official confirmation was put on hold because Jordan thought a press conference wouldn't have been appropriate at a time when the American people had more important things on their minds.

He'll donate his entire first-year salary to aid relief workers helping to get American life back to normal.

More than any other athlete in sports today, Jordan has the ability to put a smile on people's faces. That's as good a reason as any to say welcome back to the one and only king of the court – Michael Jordan.

Read more NOW articles by Andy McKenzie

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