Some thought he would tarnish his legacy by coming back. Those people violated the cardinal rule of sports history—Never Doubt Michael Jordan.
The Washington Wizards are currently 31-33, and one game behind Milwaukee for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. And yet, this may be Michael Jordan’s most impressive season of his career and one of the most impressive seasons by any player of all-time.
The man is a 40-year old shooting guard. That just doesn’t happen in the NBA. Shooting guards are young and athletic.
Think about it—go through every other team in the NBA and think about the players that Jordan has to guard on an everyday basis. Philadelphia has Allen Iverson, Seattle has Ray Allen, Orlando has Tracy McGrady, the Lakers have Kobe Bryant, Toronto has Vince Carter—the list goes on and on.
Some of these guys are almost 20 years younger than Jordan. In other words, Jordan is nearly double their age. Yet, The Wizard of the Wizards not only competes at an All-Star level but also plays 40-plus minutes a game as he single-handedly wills his team to victory night in and night out.
While other players nurse injuries, Jordan competes every night. Only Jordan and Brendan Haywood have played in every game this season for the Wizards.
After an injury plagued 2001-2002, Jordan has improved in almost every major statistical category from last season. Though he is averaging three points fewer per game (19.7 ppg this season compared to 22.9 last year), Jordan’s field goal percentage, free-throw percentage, three-point percentage, rebounds per game, blocks per game and steals per game are all up from last season.Though his current numbers do not rival the gaudy statistics Jordan put up in the late ’80s and early ’90s, when Jordan was averaging 33 ppg and shooting 53 percent from the floor (in 1988, he also averaged eight assists and eight rebounds a game throughout the entire season), His Airness is still a one-man team.
After the Wizards’ 97-95 loss to the Knicks on Sunday, Jordan articulated his frustrations with having to do everything at the age of 40.
“It’s very disappointing when a 40-year-old man has more desire than a 24-, 25-, or 23-year old, diving for loose balls, busting his chin and doing everything he can to get his team into the playoffs, and it’s not reciprocated from the other players on the team,” Jordan said. “Until guys let go of that macho, cool attitude and do the necessary things that it takes to play the game of basketball, it’s going to be tough for Washington to make anything.”
Washington has some decent players. Jerry Stackhouse averages over 20 ppg, Larry Hughes can score 30 in a given game and Kwame Brown has shown flashes of brilliance. But as Haywood explains, it can be difficult playing with a living legend—especially when he will go back to being team president and part-owner of the Wizards after this season.
“You can’t help but look at him differently,” center Brendan Haywood said. “You’re not playing with a regular player. This is a guy who’s going to be signing checks and deciding if we’re going to be here next year.”
There are Jordan-lovers and Jordan-haters that exist out there, just as there are Kobe-lovers and Kobe-haters and Iverson-lovers and Iverson-haters. All the great ones command dichotomy. But no matter whether you’re rooting for or against Jordan, one thing is for certain: he defies athletic reason. Jordan is not only the best basketball player of all-time but also the best professional athlete. Perhaps Tiger Woods will give Jordan a run for his money by the time Tiger reaches 40. But certainly in the modern era, no one yet is in the same stratosphere as MJ.
As the season winds down, if there is any sports god at all, the Wizards will make the playoffs. There is no more exciting athlete in the history of sports to watch when the pressure is on. Even if Jordan’s Wizards can make the playoffs, the challenges ahead will be immense. Washington will likely be the eighth seed and will certainly play a much more talented team.
Yet, Washington is the one team that no one wants to play. The critics are gone and the nay-sayers have left the building. No one doubts Michael Jordan.
—Staff writer Alex M. Sherman can be reached at email@example.com.