Originally created 09/25/01

Jordan's comeback: Not whether, but when



WASHINGTON -- Michael Jordan will keep everyone waiting for at least another day.

"Michael has not finalized his decision," said Estee Portnoy, vice president of marketing and client services for SFX, Jordan's management agency.

"Nothing is going to be announced today," she said Monday.

A statement from Jordan outlining the reasons for his comeback was being fine-tuned and won't be released until Tuesday at the earliest.

For now, the question remains "When?" not "Will He?" And Jordan is not expected to give any detailed answers to the biggest question - "Why?" - until Oct. 1.

Jordan all but confirmed two weeks ago that he will play for the Washington Wizards this season, ending his three-year retirement.

But his comeback raises many questions.

Can Jordan keep his job as the Wizards' president of basketball operations? The Washington Post, citing an anonymous league source, reported Monday that he must give up that position. Even so, who will be in charge when he's on the court - Jordan or his hand-picked coach, Doug Collins? How will Jordan's teammates handle sharing the court with him? Will any of them dare not pass the ball to someone who has the influence to trade or cut them?

How much will Jordan play? He's 38 and last played an NBA game in June 1998. Over the last few months, he's had two cracked ribs, back spasms, knee tendinitis and hamstring problems - and that's just from pickup games against invited players.

Will his body hold up for an 82-game schedule, or will he follow the lead of the NHL's comeback kid, Mario Lemieux, and sit out selected games?

How will Jordan handle losing? He couldn't stand it as a front office executive, having thrown tirades in front of the television while watching his woeful Wizards go 19-63 last season. Conventional wisdom says a healthy Jordan on the court just might get the Wizards to .500. He never missed the playoffs in 13 seasons as a player with the Chicago Bulls, while the Wizards haven't won a playoff game in 13 years.

Jordan has been very cagey about his comeback plans - he even asked for pledges of secrecy from the players in his pickup games - but the general outline of his return is clear.

A year or so ago, Jordan started working out because he found himself with a middle-age belly. His weight reached 242 pounds - 30 pounds above his playing weight in Chicago. His initial basketball workouts were a last-resort weight-loss plan after he found the treadmill boring.

As the months passed, the workouts intensified. Jordan's focus changed and, despite his denials, he began thinking he could indeed play again. He hired Collins, who coached Jordan in Chicago in the 1980s. Inspired in part by Lemieux, Jordan started holding intense pickup camps at a Chicago gym with NBA-caliber talent. The injuries slowed him down but didn't deter him.

Last spring, Jordan said: "If I had to answer today, I'm 99.9 percent sure I won't play again." At another point, he said he would have to grade himself a 9 on a scale of 1-to-10 in order to play again, then teasingly raised himself from 6 to 7 to 8 as the weeks went by.

There's no doubt he'll pronounce himself at 9 or 10 when the Wizards open training camp in Wilmington, N.C., on Oct. 2.

Preparations elsewhere have been under way for Jordan's return for weeks. The paperwork to sell his stake in the Wizards, as required by the NBA if he plays, is prepared. The Wizards' staff is ready to put him on the cover of the media guide. The NBA got overeager and briefly listed Jordan as a player on the Wizards' Web site last week.

Finally, there's a question only Jordan can answer:

Why come back and risk his legacy? Why not find another means to vent his extremely competitive nature?

"It's definitely the challenge," Jordan said in April. "I'm not coming back for money, I'm not coming back for the glory. I think I left the game with that, but the challenge is what I truly love."

On Sept. 10, Jordan was more eloquent as he spoke following a pickup game in Chicago.

"I'm doing it for the love of the game," he said. "Nothing else. For the love of the game."

The next day, the Jordan saga was displaced from the front pages by the terrorist attacks, prompting him to shelve plans for a news conference to announce his comeback. His next chance to answer the "why" question comes Oct. 1, the team's pre-camp media day.