No Bull, The Wiz Kid is Back!

The comeback – In sports, Lance Armstrong overcame cancer to win his third Tour de France and a 45-year old George Foreman regained the heavyweight championship two decades after loosing it. In politics, Grover Cleveland's 1888 bid for the presidency saw him win the popular vote but loose the electoral vote and thus the election. Four years later, he came back to win the White House (hear that Al?). In 1968, Richard Nixon took up residency at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. after presidential and gubernatorial defeats earlier in the decade and good ol' Bill Clinton rose from the ashes of political death so many times the press dubbed him "The Comeback Kid."

Jordan has been practicing with the Wizards for almost a year (Photo Courtesy of Icon Sports Media, Inc.)

Other famous successful comebacks include the Martini, Tony Bennett, the Volkswagen Beetle and John Travolta.

As the 2001-02 NBA season gets underway, the stage is set for another notable comeback.

"I'm returning as a player to the game I love," Michael Jordan said in the late summer of 2001 as he penned a two-year contract with the hapless Washington Wizards. By the way, there's no doubting his love for the game, especially when you consider that, three years ago, his annual salary with the Chicago Bulls was $30 million and his new contract calls for just $1 million a year. Obviously, there's little argument to be made that it truly is for love, not money, which has lured Michael back onto the court. Of course, what does money really mean when your endorsement deals make even a $30 million annual paycheck look measly?

An early shot of Jordan at North Carolina (Photo Courtesy of Icon Sports Media, Inc.)

While there's no question that Jordan's return gives hope to the Wizards, coming off a dismal 19-63 season, his comeback may also benefit the entire NBA. "I am happy to welcome Michael Jordan, the player, back to the NBA," said NBA Commissioner David Stern. "Michael has always brought joy to basketball fans around the world, and, in these difficult times, we can all use a little more joy in our lives."

But can Michael, at 38, really live up to being... Michael? Let's face it, in the shadows of his 40th year, this guy has a lot to live up to. He was a member of two gold medal-winning Olympic teams. Won the NCAA Championship, six NBA Championships, was five times named the NBA's season MVP and six times named the MVP of the NBA Finals. His scoring average of 31.5 stands as the best in NBA history. For ten years he was the league's scoring champion, and, he is third all-time leading scorer in the NBA having racked up an incredible 29,277 points.

Jordan feels he can still perform at an All-Star level (Photo Courtesy of Icon Sports Media, Inc.)

So, after a stellar basketball career, a short-lived baseball career and a retirement into legendary status, how do you come back and write another act that can compare?

Those who know him best think he can write it just fine.

"He's in good shape, he's worked very hard this summer and he wouldn't do it if he didn't think he could do it with success," said television analyst and former coach Jack Ramsay. Jordan's former Bulls teammate, Steve Kerr, concurs. "Even at 38, he's the greatest player ever. I'd be shocked if he didn't play at an all-star level and turn Washington into a winner."

NBA great Julius Erving also weighed in on Jordan's return. "I have a lot of eagerness in seeing him perform again," said Doctor J. "I know his focus and determination are there. Michael would only do this if he thought he could excel, so excel he will. He has something to loose, but not a lot."

Jordan will always be remembered as a Chicago Bull (Photo Courtesy of Icon Sports Media, Inc.)

NBA fans plead with the gods of sports that the Doc is right. No fan wants to see the great MJ being pulverized like Ali was in his final fights, named to the second string and then benched like Namath was with the Rams, or painfully hobble around centerfield like Mays did during his final season with the Mets.

Still, years after their final retirements, Ali remains The Greatest. The "Say Hey Kid's" legend of making unbelievable over-the-shoulder basket catches remains in tact, and football fans, who remember Broadway Joe guaranteeing a Jets win in Super Bowl III, are hard-pressed to even remember he played his last game in a Rams uniform.

Jordan & Barkley
Charles Barkley was also considering a comeback of his own (Photo Courtesy of Icon Sports Media, Inc.)

Los Angeles Lakers assistant coach Jim Cleamons, who worked with Jordan for six seasons in Chicago, says he's not worried about Jordan putting his legend in jeopardy. "Knowing what kind of a competitor he is, you just know he's not going to come back if he's not able to play," Cleamons said. "You're talking about a person with a tremendous amount of pride in what he does and the way he does it. If he says he's going to come back and play, you can pretty well be sure that he's done his research, he feels good about what he's going to do and he's going to throw his oar into the water. Whether he lives up to (expectations) or not, I don't think he cares about that. I think he's coming back because he misses it and this is what he wants to do."

But what does Michael personally think of the "legend thing"?

The classic Jordan rookie card

"I'm not looking at this legacy thing as much as (the press) is," Jordan said just before the season began. "I love the game for the basic reasons of loving the game, not that I'm going to leave as a champion. That's not what I'm all about. I'm all about challenges and going out and trying to see if I can achieve something. At the end of the day, if I can do it, great. If I don't, I can live with myself. I'm not walking in the dark. I know what I'm capable of doing. I know what's gong to be expected of me. I know everybody's putting my head on a block. Everybody was motivated to come out and play against me when I left, so things haven't changed."

Jordan collectibles should continue to enjoy great demand

Jordan's return to the game he loves will not only produce a gleam of hope for Wizards fans and excitement for basketball fans from coast-to-coast, it will also produce a whole new wave of collectibles.

Jordan-related collectibles have exploded in desirability and price since his retirement, with many items setting the standard for basketball sportscards and memorabilia. His rookie card, the 1986-87 Fleer issue, is a true modern classic that all serious collectors either have or should own. Some examples have fetched $30,000 plus in the last few years but the modern market suffered a bit in recent times bringing the Jordan rookie back under $20,000. How will his comeback affect his rookie? It remains to be seen.

PSA graded Jordan cards have paced the modern basketball market

Jordan's autographs have always been in ultra-high demand. His exclusive deal with Upper Deck gave the collecting public what they wanted, authenticated Jordan autographs backed by a reputable company. Photos, basketballs and replica jerseys have continued to outsell just about every modern athlete in the market. The only athlete that can rival Jordan, in terms of autograph demand, is Tiger Woods. By the way, he's also with Upper Deck. Jordan autographs are often the subject of forgeries because of their values. Upper Deck Jordan signatures are a safe bet and a wise choice.

Collectors are eager to see how Jordan will do with Washington

Game-Used Jordan jerseys have been fetching very strong prices in recent times with 1990's examples bringing, on average, around $15-$18,000 while earlier 80's examples seem to fetch $25,000 and up. A 1992 Olympic jersey just sold for $37,510 in a recent auction so the demand continues to grow. If Jordan is able to have a successful return, values are sure to increase with every jump shot he makes. Since Jordan made most of his legend with the Bulls, I would expect the demand for Chicago-related items to continue to outpace any new Washington items no matter what Jordan is able to do on the court. He will always be remembered as a Bull.

Now, serious Jordan collectors will have to add a signed blue and white Wizards jersey carrying number 23 to make their collections complete. It is of course yet to be seen, and hard to believe, that even "His Airness" will be able to match his glory years with the Bulls. So what? When you think of Paul McCartney, you don't think of Wings as much as you do the Beatles. When you think of Brando, you think of A Streetcar Named Desire and The Godfather not the string of mediocrity he produced in between. Who knows, Michael may just wag his tongue at all those who think his greatest days are behind him and have another surprise or two up his sleeve. No matter how the final chapter is written, one can be sure it will be a legendary story.