Fri, May 09, 2003 - Page 24 News List

Expansion team offers Jordan any job he wants

AP , CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA

NBA legend Michael Jordan, center, is shown with Washington Wizard owner Abe Pollin, right, and investor Ted Leonsis after Jordan was named president of basketball operations for the team in this Jan. 19, 2000 file photo.

PHOTO: REUTERS

Michael Jordan can have a job with Robert Johnson's NBA expansion franchise if he wants one.

Jordan and Johnson spoke on the telephone Wednesday shortly after the Washington Wizards told Jordan they didn't want him back as president of basketball operations.

"Absolutely I want him to be involved," Johnson told The Associated Press. "He can play any role he wants to play, frankly."

Johnson paid US$300 million for his yet-to-be-named team, which will begin play in 2004-2005 and replace the Hornets, who left for New Orleans last year.

Johnson has said he's willing to take on investors but remain majority owner. So Jordan will have his pick of roles should he and Johnson work out a deal.

The first meeting they have, Johnson said, will be about figuring out what Jordan wants to do next.

"We'll get together as soon as possible and talk not only about Charlotte, but also about what he wants to do," Johnson said. "Whatever we do together, it can't hurt our friendship. So if he decides he wants to go somewhere else, I'll say `OK, good luck.' If he wants to come to Charlotte, great."

Johnson met Jordan 12 years ago at a Chicago Bulls game. The two have been friends ever since and Johnson was expected to try to bring the NBA's most popular player into his newest venture.

But Jordan had to first settle things in Washington, which was ultimately done for him by Wizards owner Abe Pollin.

Jordan had a 3 1/2-year tenure with the Wizards, the last two as a player. Now, he's a free agent again. And one of the first calls Jordan made was to Johnson.

"He just called to say `Hey, I wanted to let you know what decision has been made. When you get a chance, let's talk,'" Johnson said. "We're friends. It won't take us very long to get together."

Jordan's hasty departure from the Wizards came as somewhat of a surprise.

Disappointed with the team's poor record and embarrassed by infighting on and off the court, Pollin told Jordan of the decision in a short morning meeting at the team's arena.

Michael speaks

Jordan was the Wizards' president before coming out of retirement to play for them the past two years. He retired for good last month and was expected to return to the team's front office. In a prepared statement, Jordan said:

"I came to Washington 3 1/2 years ago excited about the challenge of turning around this franchise. During my tenure, I dedicated myself to bringing excitement, credibility and my love of the game of basketball to Washington. It was well understood that when I finished playing, I would return as president of basketball operations and this was definitely my desire and intention.

"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.

"I want to thank the fans for the support I received during my 3 1/2 years here. I have never backed down from a challenge, and I'm disappointed that I wasn't given the opportunity to make this franchise one of proud tradition. I will never forget the outpouring of affection I received from the fans."

Bad manners

"For a guy like Michael, who has contributed so much to the game, so much to the Wizards' organization -- the way it happened lacked diplomatic style and class," Johnson said. "I don't begrudge any owner firing anybody.

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