WASHINGTON Imagine that, an NBA team showing Michael Jordan the door. Even he was shocked.
The Washington Wizards abruptly dumped basketball's most popular figure Wednesday, ending a relationship that produced much fanfare but little success over 3 1/2 seasons.
Disappointed with the team's poor record and embarrassed by infighting on and off the court, owner Abe Pollin told Jordan about his decision in a 30-minute meeting at the team's arena.
After it was over, Jordan left in a convertible, with the top down.
He was the Wizards' president before coming out of retirement to play for them the past two years. He retired for good last month and expected to return to the team's front office.
This was definitely my desire and intention,'' Jordan said in a statement. However, today, without any prior discussion with me, ownership informed me that it had unilaterally decided to change our mutual long-term understanding.
I am shocked by this decision, and by the callous refusal to offer me any justification for it.''
Now he's expected to explore options with other teams, with the new expansion franchise in Charlotte one of the leading alternatives.
Robert Johnson, new owner of the Charlotte NBA franchise, said Wednesday that Jordan can have any role he wants to play.'' He and Jordan have already had discussions, a person with knowledge of the talks told The Associated Press on Sunday on condition of anonymity.
A Wizards source, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The AP that Pollin's decision was based on three factors: player dissension, a franchise faltering after the years of Jordan in charge, and deteriorating relationships throughout the organization.
The source said no decision has been made about the front-office people Jordan hired, or whether Jordan's hand-picked coach, Doug Collins, will remain for the final two years of his contract.
While the roster of talent he has assembled here in Washington may not have succeeded to his and my expectations, I do believe Michael's desire to win and be successful is unquestioned,'' Pollin said in a statement.
Pollin's statement also implied that his decision was made with minority partner Ted Leonsis, saying that: In the end, Ted and I felt that this franchise should move in a different direction.''
However, another team source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Leonsis was not aware of Pollin's decision until the meeting.
Leonsis and Jordan, who dined together Tuesday night, arrived expecting to discuss Jordan's rejoining the team, the source said. Instead, Pollin opened with a statement saying Jordan would not be welcome back and that it was not open for discussion.
During the meeting, Pollin offered Jordan a $10 million severance payment, according to the source, but Jordan turned it down.
Leonsis had no comment.
Jordan led the Chicago Bulls to six NBA titles in the 1990s but never came close to duplicating that success in Washington. In essence, he transformed the Wizards from a largely ignored mess into a very public one.
The Wizards haven't won a playoff game since 1988, and the franchise's only NBA championship came in 1978 as the Bullets.
Jordan put the franchise back on the map when he was hired in January 2000, but his record was just 110-179 as the top decision-maker, a role he kept even after returning as a player.
Unaccustomed to failure, Jordan hasn't been discarded by a basketball team since he was cut from the varsity as a sophomore in high school.
The last few months have been particularly embarrassing for Pollin, an old-school owner who has shown little tolerance for in-house turmoil.
Jordan and his teammates sniped at each other as the Wizards finished a disappointing 37-45 for the second consecutive year and missed the playoffs again. Players publicly criticized Collins, who said they were disrespectful, and recent reports in The New York Times and The Washington Post exposed a front-office rift involving people Jordan hired.
The long-anticipated meeting Wednesday included Jordan, Pollin, Leonsis, Pollin's attorney David Osnos and Jordan's attorney Curtis Polk. Leonsis originally brought Jordan to Washington by making him part owner of both the Wizards and the Capitals.
Jordan was given free rein to run the Wizards but stumbled from the start. He botched the firing of coach Gar Heard and later hired Leonard Hamilton, who went 19-63. As an executive, Jordan tried to run the team from his home in Chicago, leaving a rudderless team to falter on its own.
Hamstrung by the Wizards salary-cap problems, he eventually overhauled the roster and made the team his own. Jahidi White is the only pre-Jordan player left. The biggest flop? Kwame Brown has done little since being the No. 1 overall pick in the 2001 draft.
Of course, Jordan's biggest personnel move came when he returned as a player. That helped the Wizards sell out every home game the last two seasons, giving Pollin a tidy profit.
This season, Jordan loaded the roster with Jerry Stackhouse, Bryon Russell, Larry Hughes and Charles Oakley in an effort to get to the playoffs one last time, but the chemistry was bad from the start. Players found it awkward sharing the locker room with the person in charge of their contracts, and Jordan's work ethic failed to rub off.
He's still considered the greatest player to ever play the game of basketball. I don't think anybody can take that away from him,'' said Detroit Pistons guard Richard Hamilton, a promising young player traded away by Jordan.
As a team president, I'm not sure.''
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