Michael Jordan came out of retirement and to the Wizards on the wings of angels. He is the symbol of indomitable will in the basketball world, winning before it was #winning. His legacy casts a shadow over the sport and its greatest superstars. His time in D.C. was a disappointing denouement; he came to fuel a contender, and became a symbol of spectacular futility in D.C. sports.
Washington D.C. and the Wizards were suddenly a marquee draw at the national level and seventeen year old me, a casual fan, fought down the excitement. I was a Richard Hamilton fan and liked Chris Whitney, but my knowledge of the game didn't really go past the box score. Still, I was watching closely, the anticipation was tremendous but years of bitterness since the last time any local team was particularly competitive tempered my expectations. I decided that if Jordan was anything less than dominant, the Wizards were not going anywhere. You all know the story from there.
So why did Jordan become, in my estimation, a symbol of transformative futility? I mentioned dominance a moment ago, and in a business sense, he certainly was. The Wizards franchise got its first taste of the national media spotlight and became a profitable spectacle.
That seemed to set the formula for the next decade. The Wizards assembled a shoot'em up, defense-optional squad that would sell jerseys, make the playoffs and exit before the serious contenders went to work. It was fun watching those teams, but I was never under any illusions; they would bring no championships home. All that, in my mind, was touched off by the Jordan era. Get some exciting players to sell jerseys and score points, tally the playoff box-office and call it a day.
It is currently an open question whether that cycle has truly been broken, even with the far more measured and accountable approach the team has taken in recent years. Current owner Ted Leonsis has expressed a deep reluctance to venture into luxury tax-territory when contending teams typically find themselves over the line. Still, the Wizards have all but completely severed ties with the Jordan-era past (keep an eye out for Amin's article), and it seems fans can finally bid farewell to the style-without-substance teams inadvertently spawned by the greatest player the game has ever seen.