Jordan's Return: Winners and Losers

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Michael Jordan is not the only one smiling about his comeback

Michael Jordan has finally made official what we've suspected all along — that hanging around a bunch of suits is boring and playing in the NBA is kinda fun.

Jordan is giving up his post as president of basketball operations for the Washington Wizards and instead donning their uniform — as No. 23, of course.

Because of the national mood, Jordan made the announcement in a low-key press release, rather than a fancy press conference.

Michael's return sends shockwaves throughout the sporting world, affecting everything from TV ratings to the balance of power in the NBA's Eastern Conference. And that sound of one hand clapping is, of course, Phil Jackson, who has to have some ambivalent feelings about going against the man who made him a coaching genius.

To illustrate how much Jordan the player means to various outfits, we provide the skinny on five people who are glad MJ is back and five who wish he remained retired.


DICK EBERSOL, NBC Sports chairman
Ka-ching! It's a ratings bonanza for NBC, and the network will gladly reshuffle its schedule of nationally televised weekend games, set to begin the weekend after Thanksgiving. The Wizards were not slated for time on NBC this season — aside from the perennial appearance in the June draft lottery — but that will almost certainly change. Prime Sunday matchups: Dec. 16 at Toronto; Feb. 24 at Miami; and March 3 vs. Orlando.

Until now, Washington Wizards apparel was about as popular as jerseys for those Harlem Globetrotter patsies, the Washington Generals. Now sewing machines in town can't run fast enough affixing 2's and 3's to T-shirts, jerseys, hats and everything else fit to wear or display. Holiday season shoppers looking for Jordan paraphernalia will be a welcome sight, because it's clear after just the first two NFL games that no one is going to want any Redskins gear.

BILL RUSSELL, Celtics legend
If Jordan's comeback falls as flat as Magic Johnson's talk show, Russell may edge back into serious contention for the unofficial greatest NBA player ever. The field is muddled, but Jordan, who isn't the greatest scorer (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), rebounder (Wilt Chamberlain), floor leader (Magic Johnson) or winner (Russell) is considered the best ever because he blended those skills better than anyone.

KOBE BRYANT, Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard Bryant has received favorable comparisons to Jordan since scoring more than 15 points per game as a 20-year-old in the 1997-98 season, Kobe's second and Jordan's last. Now 23 and a two-time NBA champion, Bryant is widely considered a more complete player than Jordan was at the same age. But Kobe will have to take a number with other superstar shooting guards — Allen Iverson, Vince Carter, Tracy McGrady and Ray Allen — to get his shot at the 38-year-old Jordan.

SCOTTIE PIPPEN, former Jordan teammate
He's an original Dream Teamer, a six-time champ, and he was honored as one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History. But some still believe that Pippen was only as good as Michael Jordan made him. Scottie has played to mixed reviews without Mike — with the Bulls during Jordan's first retirement, later with the Rockets, and currently with the Blazers — and now Jordan gets his chance at flying solo. Jordan's return — and probable mediocre team success — makes it likely people will come away with a greater appreciation for what Pippen meant to the Bulls in the '90s.


ISIAH THOMAS, Indiana Pacers head coach During his playing days, the former Detroit Pistons great was never Jordan's biggest fan. So Thomas certainly won't roll out the red carpet to His Airness, who hopes to elevate the 19-63 Wizards into playoff contention. Indy garnered the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot last season with a 41-41 record, so the question Isiah has to be asking himself is, Does the addition of Michael Jordan count for 22 games in the standings?

JOE. Q. PUBLIC, rabid Bulls fan
Some NBA fans don't want Jordan any closer to center court than the MCI Center owner's box, fearing that he may tarnish his legacy as perhaps the greatest athlete of the 20th century. After all, how could he top his previous exit, a steal and subsequent game-winning jump shot in the final minute of Chicago's title-clinching victory in Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals? He probably can't, but, for more sensible fans, seeing Michael Jordan take on this challenge — regardless of the results — only adds to Jordan's legacy as a tremendous competitor.

Barkley and Jordan have long been close friends and golfing buddies. But after ballooning to a reported 337 pounds, it's clear Sir Charles may have also helped make Michael Jordan's Steakhouse a success. Barkley toyed with the idea of making his own comeback with the Wizards, but it was too long of a road to get back into playing shape, and, unlike Jordan, Barkley did not retire at the top of his game. So Charles is going to have to find himself another filthy rich former athlete to tee off with.

PHIL JACKSON, Lakers coach
Since 1991, Jackson has guided eight teams to a NBA championship. It helped, of course, that each squad featured the best tandem of players in the league — Jordan and Scottie Pippen with the Bulls; Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant with the Lakers. Only a miraculous charge by the Jordan-led Wizards could diminish Jackson's reputation from Zen master to a guy who rolls out the ball to the most talented team in the world. But Jackson's legacy was certainly more intact with Jordan remaining in the board room.

POPEYE JONES, Wizards reserve forward
The life of an NBA backup is so grand. Make heaps of money to watch a game from the best seat in the house, and, if your team stinks (see: Wizards), you can split after a quick shower, because all the reporters are in the other locker room. That won't be the case for Washington this season. Instead of hitting the town to party right after the game, players like Jones now will have to answer 45 minutes' worth of questions about what it's like to play with Michael Jordan.