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Knee problems force Jordan to call it quits

Posted: Wednesday April 03, 2002 5:03 PM
Updated: Wednesday April 03, 2002 8:21 PM
  Michael Jordan Despite nagging knee problems, Michael Jordan says he still plans to play next season. AP

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A day after his worst scoring game ever, Michael Jordan woke up with a swollen right knee and decided enough was enough.

Jordan was placed on the injured list Wednesday by the Washington Wizards, and he said he is done for the season.

"I think it is best at this point to rest the knee and let it heal properly," Jordan said in a statement. "I tried to get back and play as soon as possible and, early on, the knee responded well. But after the swelling this morning, I think it's best to give it rest."

Jordan ends his season with a 22.9-point scoring average, the second lowest of his career. He averaged 22.7 in his second season with the Chicago Bulls in 1985-86, when played just 18 games because of a broken foot.

"He's a great competitor and he demonstrated that he can come back and be a top-10 player," NBA commissioner David Stern said in Toronto. "I hope he's better for next year."

Unless the Wizards overtake Indiana for the last Eastern Conference berth in the final two weeks of the season, Jordan will have played for a non-playoff team for the first time.

The 39-year-old star reiterated he plans to play next season if he is able.

SI's Marty Burns
Look for Michael Jordan to be back next season.

Although it obviously will depend on the state of his knees, Jordan has proved that he loves and needs basketball too much to let it go.

Like a gunslinger, he'll go down guns blazing -- even if he's 40 years old and hobbling around the court on one leg.

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"I signed a two-year contract to play," Jordan said. "Obviously, my health will always determine my playing status. But at this time, my plan is to play next season."

Jordan rushed his rehabilitation from the arthroscopic surgery Feb. 27 that repaired torn cartilage in the knee. He missed just 12 games and returned March 20 in Denver. He was a reserve in all seven games after he came back, and his knee bothered him so much that he wasn't able to play unless he pedaled an exercise bicycle in the tunnel during games.

"I think Michael realizes he pushed the envelope trying to come back too quickly," coach Doug Collins said. "Last night, before the game, I went in to see him and I could see it was physically swollen. I didn't even want him to play last night, and you know Michael, being the competitor that he is, said, "I want to give it a whirl or whatever," and I said OK.

"Now I got the call this afternoon that he recognizes the fact that the only way that knee is going to get better is to rest. And what he said to me was he's going to shut it down, let the thing heal, get the inflammation out of there. And whether that's six weeks or eight weeks or whatever it might be.

"And he's doing it with the idea that he wants to play next year."

Jordan played a career-low 12 minutes and scored a career-low two points -- all in the first half -- in Tuesday night's 113-93 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers. For the first time in his career, he was a marginal, no-factor player off the bench.

Done for the year
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* Wizards head coach Doug Collins says Michael Jordan will take the rest of the season off with intent to return next season. Start
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Collins said he didn't play Jordan in the second half because the game was one-sided. Afterward, Jordan said his knee felt fine, but Lakers coach Phil Jackson, Jordan's former coach with the Bulls, knew better.

"He was a shadow of himself. ... You could see it coming by the way he played that it was a struggle," Jackson said Wednesday night before the Lakers game at New Jersey.

"At this point, it's trying to beat a dead horse, the situation of trying to get into the playoffs takes the best effort Michael can give at this time, and it doesn't look like he's got that."

Jordan traveled to Milwaukee late Tuesday for the game against the Bucks, but he returned to Washington on Wednesday. Bobby Simmons was activated off the injured list for the Milwaukee game.

Jordan battled tendinitis in both knees and his wrist, and he had to overcome back spasms and two broken ribs as he prepared for his second comeback last summer. Nevertheless, he vowed to play all 82 games.

The major blow came when he knocked knees with teammate Etan Thomas in the final game before the All-Star break. Neither Jordan nor the Wizards have been the same since.

Jordan struggled for five games after the break before opting for surgery. The Wizards, who were five games above .500 at the break, are 8-19 since.

After he posted his all-time low numbers Tuesday night, Jordan said he wasn't concerned about statistics. He has maintained throughout his comeback he is playing "for the love of the game," a feeling he addressed a few days earlier.

"As a young kid, you take a lot of things for granted," he said. "You get out and you play because you're young enough that you can deal with it and do it every single day. As you get older, when you know and you can sense that it's coming to an end, you appreciate every moment.

"So every little thing in the locker room becomes monumental to you. ... I appreciate that a lot more now that I did when I was a young kid and everybody else was putting ice on their knees, and I was questioning them why they needed ice.

"And now young kids are asking me why I'm putting so much ice on."

But that desire, which caused him to hurry back from his injury, has brought an anticlimactic finish to a wildly interesting season.

Jordan and the Wizards were in "we-stink" mode in November as he worked himself into shape. In December, they hit full throttle and tied the franchise record by winning nine straight.

Jordan scored a then-career-low six in a game in late December at Indiana, and that was at least one case in which the stats did matter to him -- he came back with 51 two nights later against Charlotte, saying, "I can still play this game."

Richard Hamilton's injury contributed to a January slump, but the Wizards won five straight when he returned and were 26-21, cruising toward home-court advantage in the playoffs.

The momentum stopped when Jordan banged his right knee with Thomas.

"It's been an interesting year, to say the least," Collins said.

Related information
SI's Burns: NBA Mailbag
Week at a Glance: Capital intrigue
Jordan scores career-low two points vs. Lakers
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