Editor’s Note: In 2003, the Wizards made dramatic changes to their front office and roster that have shaped the course of the franchise ever since. This week, we’re going to take a look back at how the events of 2003 altered the trajectory of the franchise—for better and worse over the past 15 years.
2003 was Michael Jordan’s last season as a player in Washington. Our first piece takes a look at the legacy he left on the floor.
Michael Jordan’s stint with the Wizards might be the lowest, deepest, darkest valley the organization has ever had to take itself through.
Jordan didn’t come back to save the Wizards—he came back because, like his steady diet of cigars, he couldn’t stay away from the game. He wanted to be something more than a player and the Bulls weren’t going to let him. Wizards Jordan was born.
You’d think there was no way that this situation could end badly, but every sign said it would. Jordan became the Wizards’ President of Basketball Operations without ever truly making a personnel decision in his life. He ruined Kwame Brown. He teased his return to fans like it was Willy Wonka’s Golden Ticket. He made the Wizards mildly competitive the one season they needed to tank and put themselves in position to draft a star. He just flat out failed here.
Yet, I still cherish this time in Wizards’ history like they won a title.
I’m 25 years old. Jordan is my GOAT. Don’t talk to me about LeBron until you get that Similac off your breath. When I first heard that Jordan was making a comeback with the Wizards? Boy, you couldn’t tell me anything. I remember the exact moment. I didn’t know what president of basketball operations meant, but I knew Jordan was on my team.
This was the same Jordan that could fly? Six ring Jordan? Nah, couldn’t be. But it was. I didn’t even like the Wizards before—the team stunk, obviously. But Jordan would never, so I guess I’m a Wizards fan now.
For the first time in my life, I stayed up past my bedtime to watch basketball. I’m eight years old at the time—I don’t know what I’m doing. But Michael Jordan is on, so I’ve got to watch it. I don’t know what I’m watching and I’m not even sure it was good, but it was Jordan.
My dad would occasionally come and check on me and I’d fake sleep while the game was on. “I know you’re faking. Go to bed,” he’d say. “I’m not faking,” I’d coyly reply while absolutely proving his point. But there were times where he’d ask me what was happening and would let me talk about the game despite it being nearly 10 pm already. I wasn’t going to get up on time for school, but who cares? We were bonding.
There were so many times where I had to force myself to stay up to watch Jordan play, but one of my fondest memories is watching His Airness drop 41 on the Suns.
Jordan was unstoppable and, maybe for the first time ever, I was conscious of that. I knew that there was nothing the Suns could do. Not only did I watch him dominate, but I took it in. I internalized it — “This is how greatness looks.” And that set my standards for the time.
Obviously, the game has changed. But even then, there were other great players. I had to know what they played like, too. I had to go and watch them. For the first time, I wanted to see what made Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal so good. I wanted to see how Allen Iverson got to wherever he wanted despite being so small. I wanted to know why Jason Kidd was good even if he couldn’t really shoot.
Of course, these were talking points stolen from analysts I watched on ESPN, but I was interested even though I didn’t know what I was talking about. I started reading the Washington Post’s sports section every day. I wanted to keep up and, maybe, have conversations with the kids at my lunch table. All this because Michael Jordan blessed my team and this city with his presence.
So what if it was a failure? It’s not the team’s only one. The team has never won more than 49 games in a given year and that happened just two seasons ago. I’ve seen Gilbert Arenas’ knee ripped to shreds by Gerald Wallace’s foot. I’ve been here through every John Wall injury scare. I’ve lived through Andray Blatche. You tell me which part I’m supposed to love.
Wizards Jordan was washed, yes. But without Wizards Jordan, basketball just isn’t the same for me. It’s not my favorite Wizards era, but it’s still a great one. I’ll forever be thankful for it.