Michael Jordan does not want a pull-out-all-the-stops farewell tour. While a cynic might suggest that's because he plans to come back again—"This isn't Michael's last season," insists Bulls coach Bill Cartwright, a former teammate of Jordan's in Chicago. "He's like the Rolling Stones"—we are (against all logic) going to take Jordan at his word. That means that if Washington tumbles from its No. 8 spot in the Eastern Conference, his last game will be April 16, against the 76ers in Philadelphia. To spare him the indignity of going out in front of Philly's notoriously nasty fans, we suggest an ending that befits his brilliant 16-year career. Perhaps Jordan, always a dreamer, always a man to take on a challenge, is thinking along the same lines as he watches the smoke rise from the 40 candles on his birthday cake.
By beating the 76ers, the Wizards edge the Orlando Magic to secure the East's eighth seed. Las Vegas lists Washington as 3-2 to get swept by the Indiana Pacers in the first round of the playoffs. For obvious reasons, Jordan offers no comment on the Vegas odds.
April 9 to May 3
Washington and Indiana split the first six games, but the Wizards enter the finale, at Conseco Field-house, as heavy underdogs. The Pacers try to bait Jordan into a fight, but he's been down that road before. He looks over at Indiana coach Isiah Thomas, a former archenemy, and smiles. It's over. MJ hung 41 on the Pacers during the regular season, and he gets 37 this time as Washington advances to the second round.
May 5 to May 17
The series is billed as "The Legend versus the Kidd," and indeed, the showdown between Jordan and the New Jersey Nets' Jason Kidd captivates the basketball world. Kwame Brown finally wakes up for the Wizards—perhaps it was the elbow to the side of his head delivered by Nets enforcer Kenyon Martin in Game 1—and Charles Oakley arises from the Washington bench, wipes off the last drops of formaldehyde and goads Martin into a flagrant foul that helps the Wizards take Game 6. Jordan prepares for the clincher by playing one of New Jersey's best golf courses, Baltusrol, the day before the game. The New York City tabloids kill him for doing that, and Jordan kills the Nets with 33 in a 100-98 Wizards win.
May 19 to June 1
The Detroit Pistons can't believe their good fortune: Washington has wiped out the two most formidable Eastern contenders. Countless stories are written about Jordan's battles with the Pistons in the 1980s, when he was a scoring machine trying to bump off the Bad Boys and earn his bones by winning a title. With the score tied in the last seconds of Game 7, Jordan faces down Detroit's Rip Hamilton, a talented player whom the Wizards unloaded before the season. Hamilton can think of only one thing: Don't retreat and allow him to step back and take his jump shot. But when Jordan starts to drive, Hamilton backpedals. Jordan nudges him, steps back and hits the jumper that puts the Wizards into the Finals.
June 4 to June 11
With Jordan's seventh NBA title at stake, Washington faces the Western Conference champ....