WILMINGTON, N.C. -- The Washington Wizards got their first taste of what life with Michael Jordan will be like this season when their training camp opened yesterday.
After the second practice of the day ended last night inside Trask Coliseum at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington, many of the Wizards had trouble getting out of the gym as a media horde of more than 200 pushed its way through two tiny doors.
"All I want to do is play ball," said Jordan, surrounded by reporters and photographers. "I obviously create a lot of havoc. When I'm on the court, I can't think about that. I'm just trying to be the best basketball player I can be. I can't control the hype."
What Jordan hopes to have more control over in his comeback after a three-year retirement is the fortunes of the Wizards on the court this season and the future of the franchise down the road. Toward that end, new coach Doug Collins had Jordan playing on the same team with several of the younger players.
"He's so smart," said Collins, who was hired by Jordan in April, when the 38-year-old legend was still the team's president and contemplating his comeback. "He's like a quarterback on the floor, telling the young guys where to go and what to do. He was very active. He got guys shots on the floor."
Collins had Jordan playing with the team's rookie centers, top draft pick Kwame Brown and Brendan Haywood, who, like Jordan, played at North Carolina and whom the Wizards acquired in the off-season from the Orlando Magic.
Jordan also played at times in combination with guards Richard Hamilton and Tyronn Lue, who signed as a free agent from the Los Angeles Lakers and could provide the Wizards with the aggressive, on-the-ball defender they have lacked.
"I played Rip [Hamilton] a lot at point guard. I wanted him to get used to it," Collins said of the third-year guard from Connecticut, who emerged as the team's leading scorer last season.
"I played Rip out there with Michael. I did go with a bigger perimeter and he [Hamilton] did a good job with it. It's just going to be little by little."
One thing Collins said last night was that he didn't plan on using Jordan to bring up the ball.
"There'll be guys run up the floor [defending Jordan] and wear him out," Collins said. "When he catches the ball, I want him to be in scoring territory ... in the post, where he can make an immediate decision as to what to do."
There was some thought that Jordan would only practice once a day during training camp, preferably in the evening. But after coming to the gym with personal trainer Tim Grover at 7 in the morning, Jordan participated in all but a few drills in the morning, then practiced in the night session.
"It was fun today," Jordan said. "I'm sure I'll be sore. Some things have changed. Some drills are harder than others. It's important to get back, to get my focus back. It really gets you in shape a lot quicker. The team is trying to find a rhythm and continuity and it's better for me to be in there to get in the flow."
Johnny Bach, the team's 77-year-old assistant coach who served a similar role early in Jordan's career in Chicago, said it wasn't fair to make comparisons yet between the player who won five MVP awards and 10 scoring titles during his 13-year run in Chicago with the one who'll be the second-oldest player in the league next to Utah's John Stockton.
Typically blunt, Bach said Jordan "looked a little older a couple of times," but was quick to add, "He knows where he is and he knows where he has to go."
What impressed Bach as much as Jordan's performance on the court yesterday was the way he handled himself with his new teammates. When the team went to lunch at its hotel after the morning practice, Jordan was right there with the others.
One thing Bach noticed was the way Jordan handled his younger teammates, especially Brown. He treated the 19-year-old who is making the jump from a high school in Georgia to the NBA much the same way he treated Scottie Pippen when Pippen came out of Central Arkansas to the Bulls a couple of years after Jordan.
"He's taking time to be the stern big brother with Kwame," Bach said. "Kwame gets under the lash once in a while."
Brown, who has shown a maturity beyond his years since becoming the first high school player taken No. 1 in the draft, said he was expecting what he got from Jordan.
"He's not showing any favoritism," said Brown. "He's been that way with all the young guys."