We all remember the last time we saw Michael Jordan in uniform. It was game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals between Jordan?s Chicago Bulls and the Utah Jazz.
Down one with under a minute remaining, Jordan stripped the ball from Jazz forward Karl Malone and dribbled back upcourt.
After running the clock down, Jordan faked Bryon Russell out of his Nikes and drilled a 17-foot jump shot with 5.2 seconds left on the clock, clinching a 87-86 victory, and an NBA title for the Bulls.
A calm, composed Jordan held his follow-through, as if he were posing for the thousands of spectators and cameras to seal the image.
After culminating his phenomenal basketball career with one of the most memorable sports exits of all time, many wonder why Jordan has decided to return to the game that he ruled for so many years.
Jordan retired from the game before he was ready. The two Jerrys, Bulls owner Reinsdorf and General Manager Krause, essentially manipulated him into the decision. Both had plans to strip the team of its high-priced ? and skilled ? talent and replace it with younger, inexperienced players who would not be ready to compete for a championship for years.
At that point in time, Jordan was not willing to be a part of a team rebuilding from scratch. It did not fit into his game plan.
Subsequently, the Jerry?s did what opposing teams had tried to for so many years ? they boxed Jordan out of the game. They also failed to offer him a piece of the Bulls franchise, a slight that Jordan would not soon forget. So, his number 23 was hoisted to the rafters and the NBA was forced to say thanks to the greatest player the game had ever seen.
Within a year he was back in the NBA, this time as part owner of the Washington Wizards, one of the worst league?s franchises. He became partners with AOL-mogul Ted Leonsis, and it was no surprise that Jordan took this opportunity to learn all he could from the Internet icon and entrepreneur.
He and Leonsis needed a game plan to increase the value of their investment. They tried numerous personnel and coaching changes but nothing seemed to work, as they watched the Wizards finish last season with a measly 19 victories.
Jordan owns six NBA championship rings, multiple scoring titles and MVP awards. He knows winning, and winning only.
Last season he questioned the Wizards? desire and toughness and frequently could not watch the games publicly for fear that others would observe him berating the team. Jordan knew that in his role as owner, he no longer had the day-to-day access to the players. Feeling so removed from the team frustrated Jordan, as he had always been a ?hands-on? guy.
He knew that he had much to teach this young, inexperienced team. Jordan thinks the game of basketball as well as he plays it. After all, the man is a disciple of two of the game?s greatest teachers ? Phil Jackson, with 8 championships as an NBA coach, and Dean Smith ? University of North Carolina coaching legend.
The clues now line up and it appears Jordan is returning for three reasons.
First and foremost, Jordan wants badly to ?stick it? to the two Jerry?s for prematurely dismantling the Bulls dynasty when they may have had a chance at other titles with Jordan leading the way.
Though Jordan was not ready to be a part of their rebuilding and renaissance, he is more than willing to be at the head of his own.
Secondly, Jordan has grown comfortable easing into the role of teacher. The Wizards? younger players will eagerly take lessons from their childhood idol.
As a player, Jordan will compete with the same fire and intensity that has always fueled him on the court. And because he is not worried about tarnishing his legacy or getting run over by some of the league?s younger and quicker super-stars, Jordan will take joy in dishing off the assist to a budding Richard Hamilton, Courtney Alexander or Kwame Brown for a game-winning bucket.
Finally, there is the issue of money. Not his $1 million salary, or even his endorsements.
Instead, Jordan understands that suiting up and taking the court will add significant value to his shares of the team, as he plans to reclaim part-ownership when he retires.
With an intense competitive fire still running through his veins, we should have known Jordan was not finished ? he had a game plan all along.
Gerton can be reached at email@example.com.