While a three- or four-year plan to reinvent the Wizards seems reasonable, a turnaround by next season doesn't. Of course, if the 36-year-old Jordan wanted a quick fix, he'd sign himself. Don't count on that, though. Sources close to him say that's not part of the blueprint—not now, not ever.
When I asked Jordan's friends why he jumped at this opportunity instead of holding out for a sure thing, the answers varied. He's looking at the business, not the basketball. He's bored and impatient. He loves the challenge of doing it the hard way. He knows something we don't.
One thing we do know if this agreement goes through: Instantly the Wizards will be transformed into an intriguing franchise. That in itself would be an accomplishment.
Learning at Bill Walton's Feet
When Cavaliers center Zydrunas Ilgauskas wakes up each morning, his mind is racing before his eyes have opened: Pain—is there any pain? When he sits up, kicks off the covers and feels no aches or twinges in his surgically repaired feet, he can whistle in the shower, smile as he shaves and relax over breakfast.
There has been no pain for several weeks. The 7'3" Ilgauskas has yet to play this season because of a bruised navicular bone in his left foot, the same foot that caused him to miss all but five games last season with a stress fracture. That should not be confused with the broken navicular bone in his right foot, which sidelined him for the entire 1996-97 season.
But last week Ilgauskas was cleared to begin practicing when the Cavs return from a West Coast swing on Jan. 23. "It's been hard," Ilgauskas, 24, says. "You see the guys, but you don't feel part of the team because you don't practice and you don't play. I have nothing to talk about with them. I want to give encouragement, but what can I say when I am not out there? It is a helpless feeling. It follows me 24 hours a day, seven days a week."
When Ilgauskas averaged 13.9 points and 8.8 rebounds two seasons ago, Cleveland's future seemed bright. The stress fracture he suffered the following season was disheartening. What happened in training camp this fall was far worse. On the fifth day of workouts Ilgauskas felt a familiar pain. He tried to play through it for a day, then two, but it was excruciating. "I thought, Oh, god, I've broken it again," Ilgauskas recalls. "It was terrible. I said to myself, I don't know if I can go through this again."
After specialists confirmed that the bone was bruised, not broken, Ilgauskas' options were surgery to insert a screw that would stabilize the foot, or prolonged rest, with the caveat that surgery would be necessary if the swelling and pain didn't subside. He opted for rest. Some around the league understood his decision, some didn't. Many assumed they'd never see him in uniform again.
In Los Angeles, Clippers and NBC color man Bill Walton, who estimates he had more than 20 operations on his feet, winced at hearing of Ilgauskas' woes. "It's devastating," says Walton. "You are so committed to being the best player you can be and to outworking everybody, but because of the nature of a stress fracture, the more you play, the worse it gets. You try everything, and nothing works. So you lie awake a lot at night. It wrecked my life."