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Jack McCallum
April 15, 2002
Should Michael Jordan come back to fight another day?
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April 15, 2002

Curtain Call

Should Michael Jordan come back to fight another day?

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Television ratings boomed, backsides filled arena seats, number 23 jerseys flew off the shelves, teammates learned invaluable lessons, and fans' pulses quickened on those evenings when Ol' Baldy found his ancient magic. By most standards, save, quite possibly, his own exacting ones, Michael Jordan's comeback was a success, even though he missed 13 games with a right-knee injury that last week forced him to shut down for the season. Still, that doesn't answer the question: Should Jordan, who six long months ago signed a two-year deal with the Wizards, play again next season?

In a word: no.

Jordan has said his plan for now is to come back. But unless the Wizards can somehow claw their way into contention in the Eastern Conference next year—and barring a trade, they won't get the blue-chip draft pick needed to do that—it will get increasingly difficult to operate the franchise as a one-man band. True, nary a public word of protest was uttered by Jordan's teammates this season, but several of them, understandably, bristled under the burden of living in a world that operated on Michael Standard Time.

When Jordan played well, everyone wondered when developing stud swingman Richard Hamilton was going to be more like Mike. When Jordan played just O.K., everyone wondered when 20-year-old center Kwame Brown was going to step up and be a man. When Jordan went down—and is there a chance in the world that his by-then 40-year-old knees are going to get healthier next year?—everyone cared only whether the superstar's end was once again nigh.

Jordan's presence did have a positive effect on guard Chris Whitney, who says he picked up a killer instinct from Jordan's incessant lectures on "keeping a team down when you got them down." But Whitney, who is in his ninth season, no longer needs to be Miked. He needs to see if MJ's lessons work even in MJ's absence. Ditto for Hamilton. Jordan was sometimes quite generous to the former Connecticut All-America, referring to him as the Lone Ranger and himself as Tonto, and teaching him, as Hamilton says, a lot about leadership and taking over at key points of the game. But Hamilton was the seventh pick in the 1999 draft, a franchise maker's spot; it's time for him to emerge from Jordan's giant shadow.

The argument against Jordan's returning has nothing to do with tarnishing his legacy. We have record books, VCRs and our own memories to conjure up his glory days. Rather, he should stop playing for the sake of the franchise he's supposed to be helping and to which he will presumably return as part owner-CEO. Jordan was a great scorer, but he also knew when to make the pass; it's time for him to do that now.