Michael Jordan’s years as a shooting guard for the Washington Wizards have mostly vanished from our collective memory. ESPN’s 10-hour documentary, The Last Dance, ends with his sixth and final championship with the Bulls, as if his tenure with the Wizards never happened. That ESPN series was about a champion, one who pushed—and sometimes punched—his teammates to victory. In that story, Jordan’s commitment and competitiveness were the not-so-secret ingredient to his, and their, success. But the story of Jordan post-Chicago isn’t about winning. It isn’t a fairytale with a storybook ending. In Washington, Jordan’s strengths became his weaknesses. And as a Wizard, the ultimate champion turned his back on his teammates—and they turned their backs on him.
In this special episode of Hang Up and Listen, Joel Anderson tells the story of Michael Jordan’s time with the Washington Wizards. How did Michael Jordan end up in Washington, D.C.? Why couldn’t he make the Wizards into winners? And what does the final chapter of Jordan’s career reveal about him as a player and a person?
To help answer those questions and explore Jordan’s years with the Washington Wizards—first as the team’s president of basketball operations and then a player—Anderson interviewed former Wizards players Brendan Haywood, Jahidi White and Etan Thomas, former Washington Bullets player and broadcaster Phil Chenier, journalists who covered Jordan’s time with the Wizards including, Rachel Nichols, Steve Wyche, Mike Wise, Jack McCallum, former Wizards owner Abe Pollin’s son Robert Pollin and more on this special episode of Slate’s sports podcast Hang Up and Listen.
Steve Wyche, Mike Wise, and Robert Pollin, the son of the Wizards owner Abe Pollin, on Michael Jordan the Wizards executive and Pollin’s decision to fire Jordan:
Mike Wise: “His work ethic as a as a GM was suspect. He was often out of town. He wasn’t the guy working the phones. He was still the head of Michael Jordan Inc. This became a moonlighting gig almost for Michael Jordan.”
Steve Wyche: “Everyone expected that when MJ’s playing tenure was over, he was going to move back into the front office…And within a day or two of Michael’s final game, you really begin to hear like Abe’s gonna let him go. You could sense that Abe…felt disrespected. Because, you know, look, I’m not going to lie: Michael at times treated the organization like it didn’t exist before him.”
Robert Pollin: “Michael felt like he had been promised something. And my father said you never were promised your job back. In fact, it would have been against the league rules to have done that. So, yeah Michael Jordan getting fired is not something that Michael Jordan was used to. So naturally, he was very bitter…You look at what he’s done in Charlotte. I mean, he is not a good team president or owner. He doesn’t know how to build a champion that doesn’t include him. It’s just a fact.”