Michael Jordan at 50: A Look Back at the Wizard Years

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Today Keeping It Heel is celebrating Michael Jordan’s 50th Birthday with a series of articles dedicated to the greatest basketball player ever.  We will be publishing these articles all day long so make sure you drop back in and see what MJ goodies we have for you all throughout the day.  


MJ seems to be getting up just fine here


I was fortunate enough to watch a large portion Michael Jordan’s tenure with the Washington Wizards in person.  From part owner, to player, to exiled superstar, this is my view from section 121.

I like everyone else in the world hoped just a little bit that even though Michael Jordan was 99.9% sure he wouldn’t come back when he retired in 1998 that he would anyway someday.  Then I thought that dream was squashed once he became part owner and President of basketball operations for the Washington Wizards.  After all when has  an owner come out of the box to play?  Not even Mark Cuban has tried that one. (yet)

Then it all came true. First it seemed like a media fantasy.  Sure, Michael is practicing with the Wizards, duh, he’s probably trying to help out the coaches.  I actually thought a more likely scenario was Michael taking a seat on the bench, as head coach, before he’d lace up his Air Jordans again.  We were all wrong. After weeks of speculation, Jordan announced he was once again returning to the NBA.  Then came the famous workouts in Chicago, tons of NBA players flocked to get a peek at MJ 3.0.

What would unfold over the next 2 seasons with Jordan in a Wizard uniform revealed the ugly truth of the spoiled, uneducated NBA fan

Jordan after what should have been the game winning shot in the 03 All Star Game

I look at Jordan’s return at age 38 after 3.5 years away from the game as heroic, brave, daring, bold and just flat out awesome.  Find me another athlete that has pulled this off?  Find another example, in any sport, of an individual who could pick things up just like that at 38 years old.  Hint, look as long as you want throughout sports history and I guarantee you won’t find one.  Sure, you will find many that tried, but zero that actually succeeded.

Jordan put aside his perfect ending, the statuesque pose of his last shot as a member of the Chicago Bulls and his streak of six consecutive championships that would without a doubt be broken as a member of the lowly Washington Wizards.  Still, as Michael put it, he came back to the game of basketball as a player, simply, for the love of the game.

Almost immediately, it was apparent, the common, casual sports fan, wouldn’t be able to handle this.  With questions like “Will he be the same Jordan?” “Can he dominate the game in the same fashion”.  It was completely obvious, people just didn’t get it.  My first reaction when I heard these absurd questions was of course not!  No way can he come back and be the absolute best player in the world at 38 years old, no chance.  This is about seeing the greatest player of all time, lace them up, and giving it one last go.  Don’t you people get it?  This is a new chapter, this is Michael showing us all he can still play the game.

But of course, people expected more.  I heard ESPN analyst say they expected him to average 25-28 points per night, really?  That’s what you expected?  From a 38 year old shooting guard?  It was apparent early on, this would be no Cinderella story, Jordan wasn’t going to get what he deserved here.  It seemed blatantly obvious to me that Jordan deserved the red carpet here.  Introduce him as the king, advertise it to your fans as their chance to see the greatest ever, retire his number throughout the NBA at some point and let’s all give praise to the fact that this man is gracing us with his presence on the court again.   Nope, it became this OMG Michael your not really flying through the air anymore?  After the man’s first exhibition game when he caught an alley-op and layed it in as opposed to throwing it down Jordan was questioned like a criminal.  He repeated over and over, “But I did score” and reiterated that his legs were not back yet and this was his first game.

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