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Michael Jordan Prepares to Wind Down NBA Career


National Basketball Association star Michael Jordan of the Washington Wizards has started winding down his legendary career, with plans to retire at the end of this season. Jordan, who just turned 40 last month, can still play the game he loves.

Michael Jordan played his final game ever against his former team, the Chicago Bulls, recently, at the MCI Center here in Washington.

Though he is in his second and final year playing for the Wizards, Jordan will undoubtedly be best remembered as the man who led the Chicago Bulls to six NBA titles in the 1990s. There probably would have been even more championship rings if Jordan had not retired for almost two years to attempt a second career as a professional baseball player with the Chicago White Sox.

Jordan retired for a second time after the Bulls won their sixth championship in 1998. At the time, he thought he was through playing in the NBA.

"My life is starting to go into a whole other stage," says Jordan. "Basketball for me was the first stage - it got me to this point in my life. I knew it had to end. My life takes on a different stage now. It is a different challenge and I welcome that."

Jordan left the game for a while after that second retirement in 1998, then surprised the sports world by resurfacing as a partial owner of the NBA's Washington Wizards. But after two years in the front office, Jordan realized he still had what he called "an itch that needed to be scratched." And the only way for him to do that was to return to the court.

Few would argue that Michael Jordan's skills have diminished with time. But despite the creeping affects of age, there are still flashes of the brilliant skills that captivated fans around the world and have arguably made Jordan the best basketball player ever. Since turning 40 last month, Jordan averaged more than 30 points a game going into the contest against the Bulls.

Never comfortable playing against his old team, Jordan scored just 17 that night in Washington's 101-93 victory. That was still better than his 12.2 point average in six games against the Bulls during his two seasons with Washington. But most players would not even have been on the court. The Wizards' star sustained a deep thigh bruise earlier in the week against the Indiana Pacers, and he wore a compression stocking on his right leg to help his pain and mobility.

On January 25, Michael Jordan played his final game in Chicago's United Center, where the entrance is guarded by a huge bronze statue of him. The fans booed the Bulls team players as they were introduced, but gave Washington's Jordan a four minute standing ovation.

After the game, MJ talked about the Chicago fans.

"I'm glad for the ovation they gave me, and believe me, I feel proud that I represented them over the years I played here," he said. "They inspired me for many years and gave me great appreciation. And I have the same for them. You know, I'm glad it is over with and we both had a chance to say good-bye, and let's move on to the rest of the season and move on in life in a sense."

At his final All-Star game appearance last month, he received another huge ovation and more accolades.

After the Wizards beat the Bulls a final time, perhaps Jordan had become tired of all the nostalgia, all the talk about his glory years in Chicago. Perhaps it was because he wants to win at any cost. When I asked Michael if he had any special feelings after winning his final game against his old team, Jordan's answer was simple.

"I'm glad we won," he said.

Despite Jordan's thigh injury and a sore back, the Wizards' trainer and team doctor have been unable to convince Jordan to skip a game or two. He is on a mission to get the Wizards into the playoffs, and it appears he will let nothing get in his way. His Washington coach Doug Collins admitted that Jordan is stubborn and continues to play a lot of minutes every night. But he told VOA Sports he is not worried that Jordan will wear himself out.

"That is what he wants. He wants nothing left in the tank when he is finished," says Collins.

The Washington Wizards have about 20 regular season games left. Those games will determine the fate of Jordan's quest to lead the Wizards, and get back to playoffs, just one more time.