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Mark Heisler / ON THE NBA

It Was a Rare Misread by Jordan

May 08, 2003|Mark Heisler

Michael Jordan gets ... fired?

Right, and Brad Pitt can't find work and Cameron Diaz just took out one of those SWF classifieds ("Dazzling blond movie star seeks male companion, who doesn't mind living off her fortune.")

Nevertheless, it happened. Instead of reinstalling Jordan in his old office as Wizard president, co-owners Abe Pollin and Ted Leonsis told him his services were no longer needed after a short meeting in Washington on Wednesday morning.

Jordan, somehow caught unprepared by the move everyone else saw coming, released a statement, saying he was "shocked" that the team "unilaterally decided to change our mutual long-term understanding" and the "callous refusal to offer me any justification for it."

The team's press release was, indeed, too polite to accuse Jordan of doing anything wrong.

Not that the team lacked justification.

Jordan was warring in the press with the players -- all but one of whom he had acquired -- and also was calling around the league, trying to line up other jobs, while putting the word out he'd leave if the Wizards didn't give him complete control.

His playing days were over and, despite their 82 home sellouts in a row, he would no longer be a drawing card. Nor was he proven running a team.

Pollin was never close to Jordan, but even Leonsis, who brought Jordan in, agreed: Jordan no longer had the same kind of utility he had before, or much at all.

The real surprise was that Jordan was surprised, after the turmoil that bubbled just under the surface at the end of the Wizards' season broke through in a volcanic three-day blow-off in the press.

Jordan's genius, apart from basketball, was in his ability to frame the story, which always was what he said it was.

At the end of the season, when he was estranged from and disgusted with teammates, the story became Young Wizards Let Jordan Down.

Then, as Jordan worked behind the scenes for complete authority over the Wizards, there was no story at all. Jordan had pulled power plays before, knew how to intrigue and always got what he wanted.

This time, he wanted control of the business operation, too, which was run by Susan O'Malley, who is close to Pollin and would presumably be out or moving around paper clips.

This time, however, Jordan lost control of the story.

Over the weekend, the New York Times' Mike Wise reported the Wizard owners knew Jordan had been checking out other teams, weren't enchanted with his work ethic as an administrator and might kick him out.

Now there was turmoil in the press, too.

In Washington, where Jordan's word still held sway, the Post reported that Jordan's people thought O'Malley or recently departed General Manager Wes Unseld had ratted them out to the New York Times.

The Wizards' hidden rifts surfaced.

At season's end, Jordan hadn't been just on the outs with Kwame Brown, as was widely reported, but also with veterans Jerry Stackhouse and Larry Hughes. Coach Doug Collins, aligned with Jordan but caught in the middle, raised eyebrows by going public after Jordan's last home game, alleging that players had treated him with disrespect and cursed him.

Now Jordan confirmed that Stackhouse had been the culprit to the Post's Mike Wilbon, noting, "I didn't entice him to curse his coach and curse the referees....

"These kids have been traded two and three times by the age of 25, 26 years old. Why would you spend any amount of time listening to them? They've been traded, usually, because there's something inadequate....

"I have yet to cheat this game. Can they look themselves in the mirror and say that?"

Jordan is thought to have a standing offer from Robert Johnson, the owner of the new Charlotte franchise. Johnson is a Wizard season-ticket holder, and he and Jordan dined recently in a Washington restaurant.

The New York Times alleged more problems: the trade of Richard Hamilton for Stackhouse, because Hamilton had a confrontation with Jordan; the Wizard players so turned off they wouldn't take up a collection to give Jordan a going-away gift.

Nevertheless, with the whole story spilling, Jordan apparently decided he'd rather stay in Washington, where they have some players.

"Michael has no list of demands ... none at all," his agent, Curt Polk, told the Washington Times. "All along he has made it really clear that he wants to go back to the same job he had before with the same responsibilities. We intend to hopefully go in there, have a short-and-sweet meeting and he'll be the president again."

Jordan's meeting was short, all right, if not sweet.

"Obviously, he did a heck of a lot for that organization," said Jordan's old coach, Phil Jackson, before the Lakers' game in San Antonio on Wednesday. " ... It looks like they dealt him a hole card that was a joker."

Jordan always laughed last, but not this time.

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