Realizing the worst fears of admirers like his former coach, Phil Jackson, and his current coach, Doug Collins, Michael Jordan will undergo arthroscopic surgery on his right knee, which, the Washington Wizards acknowledge, could end his comeback season.
The surgery is scheduled to be performed today or Thursday by Wizard team physician Stephen Haas.
"[Haas] has got to go in there and just find out what's causing the irritation and why his knee is continuing to swell," Collins said at Tuesday's practice. "And depending on how much work he has to do, that will be the deciding factor in how long Michael will be out."
The Wizards, who have gone into a protective shell around Jordan this season, provided few other details.
The story that Jordan would have surgery broke not from Washington but Chicago, where the Sun-Times' Lacy J. Banks quoted a source, described as close to Jordan as saying:
"The problem with surgery is that his team is on the playoff bubble so the timing couldn't be worse. There are just 27 games left in the season. If he has to sit out five or more games, that could cost them their chance of making the playoffs."
Jordan, 39 and coming off a three-season retirement, has had problems with the knee since training camp.
In early December, he flew back to Chicago for a second opinion and sat out a game at San Antonio.
However, he returned and led the Wizards on a 24-12 run that took them as high as No. 4 in the Eastern Conference, soaring into the All-Star break on the heels of a 108-101 victory over the Sacramento Kings, owners of the NBA's best record.
He is averaging 24.3 points, six rebounds, 5.4 assists and 36.7 minutes, and is shooting 42%.
Jordan, as swept up as anyone else, forgot his plan to limit his minutes, averaging 40 in the last 10 games before the break, and announced he'll probably return next season.
At that point, the Wizards, who'd gone 19-63 last season, were on a 45-win pace, which would have been one of the biggest improvements in NBA history. Jordan was an MVP candidate and the All-Star weekend a star turn for him.
"I was sure he was going to average 20-plus," said New Jersey Coach Byron Scott before the game in Philadelphia. "I didn't think he would do this well and have his team playing as well as they've been playing.
"One man can change the total attitude, the total makeup of a team, and he's done that."
Of course, it's hard when the man is 39.
Jordan began struggling in the first game after the break, making eight of 20 shots and scoring 22 points in a loss to the Lakers at Staples Center, ballyhooed as a showdown between Jordan and Kobe Bryant. They didn't guard each other and Bryant scored 23 (with 15 assists and 11 rebounds.)
The Wizards headed down with Jordan, losing seven of eight. Their only win was 97-96 at Phoenix, when he made a last-second 17-foot jumper.
Last week he scratched himself for the second time this season for a game at Detroit.
This time, taking one game off didn't do it. He came back with 17 points in a home loss to the New Jersey Nets and scored 37 in another home loss to the Heat. The next night at Miami, trying to go back-to-back, he shot four for 13, scored nine points and sat out the last 6:27.
After that, seeming to feel all his years, he said flatly, "I'm old," and talked about going on the injured list--for the second time in his career and the first since 1985--to rest.
"Maybe this is the time we really see what we have with our young players," Jordan said.
He also seemed to be re-thinking next season.
"There are some things that I've been talking with some of the doctors in terms of what I may need to be doing in the off-season," Jordan said. " ... I'm more or less focusing on the moment. When the season ends, that's when I'll think about next season."