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Jordan Returns to NBA - 2001-09-26

What had been one of the worst kept rumors in sports became reality on Tuesday, as basketball legend Michael Jordan issued a statement saying he is returning as a player to the game he loves.

It will be strange seeing Michael Jordan back on the basketball court, but it will be even stranger seeing him in a Washington Wizards uniform. But that's what he has decided. He will wear number 23, the number he made so famous with the Chicago Bulls.

The National Basketball Association does not allow anyone to be an owner and a player, so Jordan is giving up his share of ownership in the Washington franchise to return to the court under a two-year contract. And he announced he is donating his modest - by NBA standards - first year salary of $1 million to victim relief for the September 11 terror attacks in Washington and New York.

The 38-year-old Jordan is not expected to speak publicly about his comeback until October 1, the day before training camp opens before the upcoming NBA season.

But the Wizards majority owner Abe Polin has had many meetings with Jordan since the former superstar became his partner in January of last year and he regularly saw in him a burning desire to compete.

"When you deal with Michael as I did and sit across a desk from him and talk basketball to him, I could see the gleam in his eye," Mr. Polin says. " I could see the almost like, 'Wow! Why shouldn't I be out there playing. I can still do it.' "

This is actually Jordan's second comeback from retirement. His most recent departure from the game was three years ago after he led the Chicago Bulls to three straight NBA championships for the second time. The team completed its first so-called "three-peat" - or three-straight titles - from 1991 to 1993. But Jordan retired before the 1993-94 season began, shortly after his father, James Jordan, was murdered in North Carolina. Michael Jordan briefly made an attempt at a professional baseball career before returning to the court in March of 1995.

There are mixed reactions to Jordan's latest comeback. It will certainly be a spectacle. And many are skeptical.

Some have very strong opinions, like former Los Angeles Lakers star Magic Johnson.

"Do I want him to do it? " Majic Johnson asks, " No, because I would never want him to mess with the legacy, the things that made him be the best that's ever played. I would never want anything to go wrong."

The big question is, can Michael Jordan return to the incredible form that helped him win 10 NBA scoring titles in his 13 seasons with the Chicago Bulls? His new coach is Doug Collins, the man Jordan hand-picked while president of basketball operations for the Washington Wizards. Collins, who also coached Jordan early in his Bulls' career, plans to split the star's time between his familiar guard position and small forward.

One of the other big questions is how Jordan's 38-year-old body will hold up in the NBA's punishing 82-game regular season and brutal travel schedule. In practice games to get back in shape, Jordan cracked two ribs and suffered from back spasms, knee tendinitis, and hamstring problems.

But Jordan's former general manager, Jerry Krause of the Chicago Bulls, says Michael would not have tried to return if he did not think he could be in peak condition.

"The one thing about Michael is that Michael's not going to play unless he feels very good about it and unless he knows that he can be a quality player, because he sets a standard for himself much higher than most other people in the world do," he says. " And Michael is, as I say, very bright, and he's going to know what he can do and what he can't do."

And everybody around the NBA and around the world will soon know what Michael Jordan can and cannot do on the court in his latest comeback to professional basketball.