WASHINGTON (Reuters) — Michael Jordan delivered on Tuesday the news that basketball junkies, television executives and NBA officials waited for months to hear — he’s coming back.
Jordan, who retired three years ago after leading the Chicago Bulls to a sixth world championship, will return to the court this season to play for the Washington Wizards.
“I am returning as a player to the game I love,” Jordan, 38, said in a statement.
Since the National Basketball Association does not allow players to have an ownership stake in any team, Jordan will relinquish his 5 percent to 10 percent share of the Wizards. He will also resign as the team’s president of basketball operations, a position he had held since January 2000.
“This will be great for the league,” said Philadelphia 76ers coach Larry Brown. “You’re talking about arguably the greatest player that has played our game, the greatest athlete in a team sport. I don’t expect to see anything less than a great player.”
Jordan signed on for two years with the Wizards and said he would donate his entire salary for the upcoming season to relief and assistance efforts for victims of the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington.
Due to the Wizards’ dire salary cap situation, Jordan will reportedly earn just 1.3 million dollars this season, a massive cut from his last year with the Bulls, when he earned more than 33 million dollars.
Said NBA Commissioner David Stern: “I am happy to welcome Michael Jordan, the player, back to the NBA, although as commissioner I’m sorry to lose him in the boardroom.
“Michael has always brought joy to basketball fans around the world, and in these difficult times we can all use a little more joy in our lives.”
Prior to Jordan’s announcement, the lowly Wizards were slated to appear on national television only once. That will surely change with the return of the phenomenally popular Jordan, widely considered the best basketball player ever.
Jordan will have to be at his best if he hopes to reverse the fortunes of a team that won just 19 of 82 games a year ago. In fact, the moribund franchise has not won a playoff game in 13 years.
A five-time NBA most valuable player, Jordan said he was “convinced we have the foundation on which to build a playoff-contention team.”
Jordan retired after winning his sixth NBA championship in 1998, sinking a title-clinching shot against the Utah Jazz — a seemingly perfect ending to an incomparable career.
During his retirement, Jordan, when pressed, repeatedly said he was “99.9 percent” sure he was not returning to the court. He apparently had a change of heart this summer and decided to exercise the one-tenth-of-one-percent opening he had left for himself.
The 6-foot-6 guard will begin training camp with the Wizards on Oct. 2 in Wilmington, N.C., where he played high school basketball.
The Wizards have sold nearly 12,500 season tickets and are nearing a franchise record.
“No matter how long he has been away from competitive basketball, he is always going to be MJ,” said Sixers guard Aaron McKie. “He is a smart enough player where he will adjust his game to make himself a threat on the court.”
Jordan, who also won Olympic gold medals in 1984 and 1992 and was a champion at the college level, led the NBA in scoring a record 10 seasons and was a 12-time All-Star.
He had planned to announce his plans last week, but postponed a scheduled news conference after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. He said he will not speak to the media until Oct. 1 — the day before Wizards training camp begins.
“This is certainly an extremely important moment in the history of our franchise; however, our excitement is muted by the world events that surround us,” said Wizards owner Abe Pollin.
“The greatest player in the history of the game is joining my team, and for that I am extremely honored and pleased.”
Jordan’s decision marks his second return to basketball after retirement.
After winning his third title with the Bulls, Jordan left the NBA to try his hand at baseball, playing for the Chicago White Sox minor league affiliate in 1994 and ’95 before returning to the Bulls for three more championships.