It”s official. Michael Jordan, arguably the greatest player to grace the courts of the NBA, will make a return from retirement.

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Michigan wants to beat Illinois for the second straight year, it will need to keep Kurt Kittner (15) on his back<br><br>FILE PHOTO

Again.

Predicting that his “Airness” would not have the gall to make his third curtain call at age 38 I was wrong.

But that doesn”t mean that Jordan”s decision is necessarily a good one. He will be in for a rude awakening when he laces up his Nikes again as the only proven player on the lowly Washington Wizards.

Don”t get me wrong. The man has proved to be superhuman on the floor countless times during his illustrious career. He”s a smart player, and many say that he wouldn”t come back if he felt he”d embarrass himself.

But the truth of the matter is that he”s just a man and an old one at that. Jordan will turn 40 by the time his two-year contract is over, if he can make it that far. Jordan battled the injury bug several times in his “summer workouts.” His Airness suffered from tendonitis and two cracked ribs and don”t think that he will be immune from injury during an exhausting 82-game grind.

Playoff contention?

Don”t start buying your postseason tickets yet, Wizard fans. A team that won only 19 games last season has a couple veterans on their last-leg, several unproven young players and Jordan.

Picture the starting lineup if Jordan would have remained in the owner”s box: Kwame Brown (No. 1 draft pick out of high school), Courtney Alexander (good, but unproven), Christian Laettner (free-agent flop from Pistons), Richard Hamilton (last big shot was at Connecticut) and Chris Whitney (who?) at the point.

Oh yeah. Don”t forget the deep bench that includes spark plugs such as Brendan Haywood, Tyronn Lue, Loy Vaught, Etan Thomas, and Tyrone Davis.

Looks like Jordan has his work cut out for him and a lot of “teaching” to do. Plus, if he”s been known to blow up in his executive offices after losses last season, how will he react on the floor when his team (players and coaches that he drafted, signed and hired) can”t live up to his standards?

It won”t be pretty, that”s for sure.

Why ask why?

“I am returning as a player to the game I love,” Jordan said.

It”d be hard for everyone not to take Jordan for his word for why else would he risk so much?

It”s not about money. Jordan has enough money to live a million lifetimes, and is even donating his entire salary ($1 million) for the upcoming season to relief agencies working with the victims of the terrorist attacks on Washington and New York.

It”s not about unfinished business. He already came back once for that. Winning six NBA titles in his final six full seasons and winning 10 scoring titles leaves nothing for Jordan to prove. Sinking his last shot in the last seconds of his last game to win the championship would have been an impeccable legacy.

Jordan doesn”t necessarily want that. He wants to play.

But does he want to or need to?

Jordan needs the game. It”s an addiction that he couldn”t get over by merely being the President of an NBA team. He needs to be in the spotlight show that he can still hang with the big boys.

But they”ll be waiting for him, and this time they”ll be ready.

Changes

When Jordan comes back, he will have to utilize his knowledge of the game to succeed in a league filled with rule changes and electrifying young talent. After all, there won”t be many highlights of him gliding from the free-throw line or hanging in the air between two Laker defenders while simultaneously deciding what move to make.

Jordan added new dimensions to his game when he returned to the NBA last time in 1998. His patented fade-away jumper became nearly impossible to stop, but will coaches around the league today just let him do that?

One of the rules changes involves the elimination of “illegal defense.” Unfortunately for Jordan, this means teams can take him out of the game by shadowing him on the floor with a “Box-and-One” defense. They”ll let Chris Whitney or Laettner beat them, not a 38-year old Jordan.

Not only that, but rising stars such as Allen Iverson, Kobe Bryant, Tracy McGrady and Ray Allen”s mouths must be watering at the chance to take it to a living legend. Jordan had problems four years ago guarding Iverson”s killer cross-over. What makes you think he”ll have the quickness to keep up now?

Jordan won”t be the same player he was at age 24. He won”t even be the same player he was three years ago. He will be an impact player, scoring about 20 points per game while probably only playing in two-thirds of the Wizards” games.

With him, the Wizards will definitely be a better team. They”ll win more games, have people actually watch their games, and make more money. But the playoffs are a far reach.

More importantly, Jordan won”t be the best, and that will be a lot for his fans and his ego to take. Everyone wants to see their heroes in their “greatness.” They don”t want to see Willie Mays stumbling over himself in center field, Joe Namath in a Chargers” uniform or Magic Johnson hosting a sub-par television show.

They want to see Jordan slashing through defenses, sinking last-second shots and winning championships. The sad thing is, their last memory of Jordan may be him leaving the game, on terms other than his own in the form of a serious injury or in a shocking realization that he can”t hang.

And that”s what they”ll see – unless Jordan proves me wrong.

It wouldn”t be the first time.

Joe Smith can be reached at josephms@umich.edu

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