25th of September, 2001 It’s a date that many Michael Jordan fans don’t believe exists.
Saturday marks the 20th anniversary of Michael Jordan’s return from retirement to play for the Wizards. Jordan, 38 at the time, announced his intention to join the active roster by resigning as the team’s president of basketball operations.
“I’m returning to the game I love as a player because I’ve enjoyed working with our players and sharing my own experiences as a player over the last year and a half as a member of the Washington Wizards’ management,” Jordan said. “There is no better way to teach young players than to be on the court with them as a fellow player, not just in practice, but in actual NBA games,” he says. While nothing can erase the past, I am firmly focused on the future and the competitive challenge that lies ahead of me.” I’m particularly excited about the Washington Wizards, and I believe we have the foundation to build a playoff-contending team. The opportunity to teach our young players and help them improve their game, as well as to thank the fans in Washington for their loyalty and support, influenced my decision.”
Jordan’s second comeback didn’t go as well as his first, which included a three-peat with the Bulls. The Wizards won 37 games in 2001-02 and 2002-03, but failed to make the playoffs in both seasons. After a three-year layoff, “Air Jordan” couldn’t fly as high because his age and injury issues limited his effectiveness.
Jordan’s lack of success in Washington was not featured in ESPN’s documentary series “The Last Dance,” and when GOAT debates arise, those seasons are not even considered as part of his case. It’s almost as if they didn’t happen at all.
But, not only did Jordan actually play for the Wizards — there is footage and everything — but he also performed admirably in the context of his situation and stage of his career.
Jordan averaged 22.9 points per game in his first season with the Wizards, ranking 10th in the NBA, along with 5.7 rebounds, 5.2 assists, and 1.4 steals per game.
Despite being short on personnel and having to drain his knees multiple times that season, Jordan maintained the drive and skill that had made him one of sports’ most captivating athletes. On December 29, 2001, he scored 51 points against the Hornets, making him the oldest player in NBA history to do so.
Jordan appeared in all 82 games of his final NBA season, 2002-03, averaging 20.0 points, 6.1 rebounds, 3.8 assists, and 1.5 steals. He took fewer shots than the previous season, but he hit them much more frequently (44.5 percent from the field). He was second in scoring and minutes only to Jerry Stackhouse (21.5 points per game), and Stackhouse was in his prime as a 28-year-old coming off back-to-back All-Star appearances with the Pistons before being traded to the Wizards. Jordan was a 40-year-old man whose body was deteriorating.
Oh, and what about Washington’s track record? When you consider that the Wizards went 19-63 before Jordan picked up a jersey and 25-57 after he left it in the locker room for good, those 37-win seasons look a lot better. Those teams weren’t going to win rings, but they weren’t going to be bottom feeders either. It’s hard to believe the 2001-02 team was even close to making the playoffs.
This is not to say that the Jordan era was without flaws. To put it mildly, Kwame Brown did not enjoy his time as Jordan’s teammate. Jordan’s incredible competitive streak and self-belief almost certainly hurt his teammates rather than elevating them as he intended. The Wizards of the early 2000s were not the Bulls of the 1990s. It would be wrong to incorporate those years into the hagiography of “The Last Dance.”
However, portraying Jordan’s brief stint with the Wizards as an embarrassing blemish on his resume is also incorrect. If anything, his final stretch of his career should serve as a reminder of how great he was.