Pollin shows Jordan he can slam-dunk, too

THE BALTIMORE SUN

POOR MICHAEL Jordan, the neophyte NBA executive, was used by Abe Pollin? Please.

Nike ought to consider a new sneaker line. Air Abes.

With velcro tabs for the geriatric set, the shoe can make a 79-year-old man leap intergalactic icons in a single bound.

Most impressive feature? Air Abes can really fire!

That's right, folks. Abe Pollin, owner of the Washington Wizards, just took off from the foul line and floated like a butterfly to sting Jordan like the mother of all bees.

It's a bird. It's a plane. It's Air Abe, palming a pink slip for a windmill jam in the famous face of the greatest player ever to play in the NBA.

"In the end ... I felt that this franchise should move in a different direction," Pollin said.

The scary question now is what different direction could Pollin be talking about.

It's not like the Wizards needed Jordan to mess up the franchise and set it off into rudderless obscurity.

Isn't this the club that left Karl Malone on the table, drafting Kenny Green instead?

Isn't this the club that got Moses Malone, Bernard King and Gus Williams too late in their careers to make a difference? Isn't this the same franchise that had no idea how to turn Chris Webber, Juwan Howard and Rod Strickland into playoff contenders, then settled for Mitch Richmond and Otis Thorpe?

And weren't there 16 former Wizards in the playoffs last week while the Wizards squabbled themselves into oblivion?

Even before Jordan, the Bullets/Wizards committed enough turnovers to make them comparable to the Denver Nuggets in terms of market and marquee value. The Wizards' prayer? Thank goodness for the Clippers.

Still, after a lightning-quick meeting between the Wizards and Jordan in Washington yesterday, it's clear Pollin had already decided Jordan's fate, which raises the question:

What did Jordan do to so royally tick off Pollin and make this abrupt divorce a fait accompli, even as Jordan said as late as Tuesday that he hoped they could iron things out?

Probably it was the phone call Jordan's people recently made to the league office, when Jordan sought clarification on rules regarding his ability to talk with other NBA franchises while still under the employ of the Wizards.

Pollin and Robert Johnson, the prominent Washington businessman who is now the owner of the NBA expansion franchise in Charlotte, are not exactly golf buddies. No doubt the minute Pollin caught wind of Jordan's interest in teaming up with Johnson in Jordan's native state, Pollin scripted the pink slip.

Pollin can't fire Jordan? He can't survive a post-divorce popularity battle when his ex is the greatest player ever?

Well, Pollin just did it -- and probably with legitimate reasons.

Jordan's transgressions and failures were as bald as his scalp. As president, Jordan was in charge as the Wizards went 19-63 that first season when Jordan ran the club from Chicago. They were so bad, the Wizards got the first pick in the 2001 NBA draft, yielding Kwame Brown, a high school player Jordan gushed about molding.

These days, Brown has so much mold on him, it will take a move to another team to chip it all off. Maybe then the kid will make good on being such a lofty pick, since two years in Washington has stunted whatever development Brown might ever make.

Aside from the sellouts, which were nice but a short-lived cash cow for the Wizards, Jordan's time in uniform did even more to set the franchise off course. With Jordan abandoning the rebuilding process and instead installing veterans around him in an effort to make the playoffs, the Wizards were a Jerry Springer smackdown for the bulk of this bickering season.

The Wizards' clubhouse was one of the most fractured, tense places this side of the Billy Martin/Reggie Jackson Yankees. Jordan would appear like the Wizard of Oz, out from the trainer's room, from a hole in the ground, through a cloud of smoke -- the legend trying to teach mere mortals -- and bratty ones at that -- how to win.

His ego and demands -- good for a team like Chicago, with Scottie Pippen and role players capable of helping Jordan achieve championship-caliber basketball -- crushed this Wizards team, causing increasing suspicion and resentment as the underachieving season wore on.

Meanwhile, it was all Brown's fault.

The Wizards may get crushed in the public relations department, since Pollin will be cast as the fool who fired Jordan. The terse statement and lack of explanation by the Wizards yesterday won't stand up against the spin and quick reincarnation that Jordan and his people will unleash and orchestrate. When's that news conference in Charlotte going to take place, introducing Jordan in his next job as ticket-seller extraordinaire?

Maybe there will be another full-page ad in The New York Times and The Washington Post. After the season, Jordan (or his media consultants) penned a love letter to basketball, reinvigorating the image of Jordan as the selfless ambassador of the hardwood.

Meanwhile, as Jordan changes into a new suit, in a new place, the Wizards leave us to play a game of Clue. Did their failed marriage to Jordan stem from dysfunction at all levels of the organization -- on the court and upstairs?

Doug Collins will be fired. Wes Unseld is on leave indefinitely. Did Jordan, prior to the pink slip, make it clear he wanted Pollin to cast off Susan O'Malley, the president of Washington Sports and Entertainment, whom Jordan openly disliked?

Jordan may have underestimated Pollin's sense of loyalty in pressing for more power once he went back upstairs. He may have overestimated the glow of his greatness -- at least in the big city where Pollin has enough hops left in his step to jam on the master jammer. Wow.

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