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The Great One bids adieu
by Bruce Meyer / April 12, 2003

"No, he's not gonna play another year," Wizards coach Doug Collins said this week. "You can count on that. He's through. That's why he's playing 40, 42, 44 minutes. He's not playing to hold anything for next year. He's gonna take his uniform off. He's already said he can walk away."

Once it got to a certain point in the season, Doug Collins and Michael Jordan decided there was no need to rest him. "He said, 'You know what. I'm not worried about a career-ending injury. If it happens, it happens. But I'm not going out with anything left in the tank,' " Collins said "He played 47 minutes in Boston. He played 46 minutes in Cleveland. I know he's playing too many minutes. He knows he's playing too many minutes. But that's just the way it is. That's the only way we can win."

Others on the team concur. "I think he's definitely going to go back upstairs," said Jerry Stackhouse, the team's leading scorer. "He has a gut feel of what this team has. I think that will be his next goal, to try to put a team together that can really vie for a championship. I think the players have been around Michael for the last couple years and have seen what it's like to get a taste of winning, and hopefully that's enough to get the work in process where we can continue to get better."

Said Brendan Haywood: "I don't think he's coming back at all. He's made a couple of comebacks. This is definitely his last one."

Forward Kwame Brown thinks Jordan has made it pretty evident he's not coming back, too. "Whatever he said he's gonna do, he's gonna do," Brown said. "If he said he's not coming back, he's not coming back. Competitive fire or no competitive fire, he's still 41 years old next year."

There are still some on the team, though, who wouldn't mind a continuation of the NBA's greatest career. "He doesn't really talk about it, but we all speculate that this is his last season," said Tyronn Lue. "But if he comes back for another season, that would be great."

Bobby Simmons also thinks Jordan could continue being competitive on the court. "You never know. That's a decision he has to make," Simmons said. "He has to decide if he can play 82 more games. And that's one thing I think he'll decide once the season's over with. Me being from Chicago, I think he could play for the rest of his life, as long as he can make it up and down the court."

Though Jordan has kept his game near the league's top level, averaging right at 20 points a game this season, Collins considers the mental aspect of preparation is just as tough. "Forget about the physical," Collins said. "Do you know what this guy has to do mentally to get ready to play? In every arena we go in, everybody is frothing at the bit to go against him. I mean, I guarantee you we get guys playing against us like we're the six-time championship Bulls."

And whatever Jordan ends up doing the rest of his life, it won't compare to the thrill of being a player, the coach thinks. "There's no athlete who plays at that level who can ever walk away from the game and ever feel the joy," Collins said. "Now, that doesn't mean you can't be happy. But there's nothing like sitting in that locker room after you've played a game, regardless of whether it's Cleveland or in the championship, and you've spent yourself and you're sitting in that locker room waiting to go to the next arena. There's nothing close to being a player."

If the other Wizards take nothing else from having the chance to play with Jordan, Collins said they can learn from the approach Jordan takes every single night.

"This guy is an incredible player," Collins said. "I've had a chance in my life to coach him young and coach him old and nothing ever changes. He loves basketball more than anyone I've ever been around in my entire life. He's never, ever taken a night off and cheated the fans, regardless of how he's felt. He's always made it an obligation to show up and play and play to win. And I don't know anything more you can say about an athlete than that. Forget about his greatness, but just what he does every night. And I have the ultimate respect for that."

Meanwhile, Stackhouse considers Jordan's presence has calmed him down. "It's a situation where at different times in the game, I defer to Michael," Stackhouse said. "That's not really who I am, but I think it's been good for our team this year. With this being Michael's last year, he definitely wants to do it."

Brown said he admires Jordan's "drive and his desire and his eagerness to get out every night and run up and down. I think he gets better during the big games."

Said Lue: "It's been a great experience and a positive experience for me to get a chance to play with the greatest player to ever play the game, and also get to learn from him; just to see how he goes out and competes every night. At 40 years old, it makes you look in the mirror and say we should go out and play just as hard as that man."

Bruce Meyer is a regular contributor to HoopsHype.com

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