Let me be the last to welcome Michael Jordan back to the NBA. As usual, he was up for the challenge. Kobe Bryant buys an Italian team, His Airness becomes an NBA owner. Isiah Thomas buys the Continental Basketball Association, the minor league unofficial affiliate of the NBA, His Airness buys into the Washington Wizards, the official minor league affiliate in the NBA.
Not to burden Jordan's doorstep with bad news he must now attempt to rectify without so much as touching a ball, but The Everybody Beats the Wiz haven't won a playoff game since Nancy Reagan was in power.
Last time I had the courage to look (prior to Friday's unfathomable win over the Pacers; obviously, team president Donnie Walsh hired the wrong icon), it was a team with a heart even Bill Bradley would question.
This is the kind of project you embrace, I submit, when you discover chauffeuring your kids around town isn't quite what Danny Ainge cranked it up to be. Or the sequel to your cologne flops at the box office. Or filming those long distance underwear commercials have suddenly lost their seduction.
Is there anybody out there who didn't think Jordan would return to the scene of his crime against all comers one fine day with his oversized mitts firmly clamped on a franchise? When you've got his killer genes and a lust for prey, er, the game, how long can you possibly remove yourself from the action?
Why pick the Wizards, of all tenement teams? Because the Wizards picked Jordan, giving them credit where credit is due. All Jordan was waiting for was for some overnight express billionaire to exhibit what makes him so smart by cutting him in on the action. These kind of guys (Ted Leonsis) are just like you and me, they'll do anything to get Michael's autograph.
But, but, but, certifiably sane people stammer, what are Jordan's qualifications? You know, other than being anointed the greatest athlete of the past century by a cable network, a sneaker company and Hillary (Jordan was born in Brooklyn) Clinton?
We've all been overexposed to the whine within the executive branch: 'Just because Jordan owned the NBA and held its population hostage while swilling a six-pack of championships, what makes him think he can assume such an exalted position without even faking foreplay?'
Magic senior VP Pat Williams, who began his career in the league at the tender age of 29 when the Bulls hired him as GM despite a conspicuous dearth of basketball credentials, wondered out loud in USA Today if Jordan realizes how much work it takes to do the job correctly, and whether he's prepared to make such a commitment.
This from a guy who somehow found the time during his industrious schedule over the last 30 years to author a score of novels and help raise a nation of kids.
Earth to Pat, this is Michael Jordan we're talking about, not one of those former idols whom teams are famous for hiring to adorn their front office, only to see them aggressively maintain the three-hour work day mentality they luxuriated in as players.
As if Jordan ever gave less than a compulsively bloated effort and advanced attention in any endeavor he undertook.
Not that Jordan has exactly demonstrated a keen eye for talent over the years. I can't tell you how often he felt Bulls GM Jerry Krause had acquired the wrong guy and it turned out to be a snugly fit. Or wanted somebody else and the guy turned out to be bogus or washed up.
Remember his harsh assessment of the Charles Oakley-Bill Cartwright exchange? We'll call that a rookie mistake.
Truth is, who cares if Jordan flaunts the expertise to rip off opponents in trades. Or possesses the ability to identify quality free agents who can be signed cheap. Or has a gift to distinguish talent in draftees overlooked by his peers.
If the Wizards wanted those faculties, not to mention the real messiah, they would've hired Washington resident Red Auerbach. And saved the plane fare and hotel cost.
Jordan won't have any trouble learning all that stuff. First of all, there's no pressure on him, because he has no footsteps to fill. Moreover, valued consultant Jerry West has told him how easy it is to erect a league-leading outfit. Sign a Shaq here. Acquire a Kobe there. Add a Glen Rice to keep defenders from congregating around the other two. Hire a documented winner like Phil Jackson to oversee things. Lay back and it's future dynasty city.
But maybe Jordan isn't listening. How else can you explain the fact team president Susan O'Malley and VP Wes Unseld are still employed?
What do you mean Jordan isn't qualified? Being unable to find and fill a competent roster certainly hasn't kept Unseld (to name one team executive) from cashing a substantial paycheck for the last six years. Apparently full court outlet passes do not necessarily equate into wise personnel decisions. If they did, Chris Webber would be the Grand High Exalted Wizard of the nation's capital and Juwan Howard would be dazzling Madonna with his Fab Five footwork in Miami.
We understand completely why Jordan wants back in; if Sacramento can overcome the front office follies of Bill Russell and is now NBC's second most favorite team in California, then he can clean up the mess left him by Wes and majority owner Abe Pollin.
When you're the ultimate competitor you incontrovertibly believe the Wizards' cramped cap can be finessed, and overpaid albatrosses can be farmed out, or inspired to sweat occasionally.
Cynics believe Jordan will have an easier time justifying $175 for his sneakers.
One benefit Jordan has, of course, that his counterparts don't, is being able to scrimmage with his new band of underlings. This shouldn't be glossed over. While some executives foresee his presence at practice as being distracting, Jordan feels it's important to 'sense the fear in their eyes,' as he recalled watching old rivals cower.
Unfortunately, when Jordan looks into the eyes of the 13-28 Wiz, it won't be fear he sees. It'll be apathy.
Of all the things said and written regarding Jordan's new occupation, the most preposterous notion, I submit, is that of a perceived conflict of interest between him and agent David Falk.
Does anybody honestly think Falk feels his reputation won't suffer and client list dwindle if he sells a player short at the bargaining table in order to help out Jordan? Or that Jordan would take a dive in contract negotiations in order to help out Falk?
Both want to win at all costs and will spare no feelings in the process. Clearly, they'll try to beat up each other every time they match up. That's their history, that's their nature.
Before we go to get a photo opportunity with Jordan at the next Wizards' home game, I want to go the record with this:
Within two years, Jordan will be successful at reacquainting this once proud franchise with credibility. That's his goal. And when it happens, he's he's hoping it'll make him a hot commodity when a job with a real NBA team opens up.
(Peter Vecsey is an analyst on NBC's NBA coverage and a columnist for the New York Post.)