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We're off to see the Wizards
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There are a handful of us out there, and it is time for us to be heard. We are Wizards fans, although we'd rather be known as Bullets fans, and, the truth is, this Michael Jordan talk has us faint of heart. It is not nice to toy with us, considering we have not watched a meaningful game since 1979, and we naturally expect this cruel joke to eventually be on us.

Like everyone else, we've heard that Michael is working out and that he's dropped 20 of the 40 extra pounds he's gained and that he may join our pathetic, dysfunctional team next season. We've heard everyone tell him to forget it, that he'll taint his good name, and we've heard that he's put every one of those negative articles up on his refrigerator door, which we all know means he's coming back. The NBA will be happy, and NBC will be happy and Ahmad Rashad will be happy, but lost in all of this is us. Nobody asked us. All five of us!

Don't get us wrong; we want Michael in the fold, or in the post, or in the zone defense, or anywhere in MCI Center next year. But we're afraid because a) we thought he said he'd only play for Phil Jackson and b) we don't have Phil Jackson and c) he probably wants to play for a contender and d) we ain't exactly a contender and e) there's talk he might go to the Knicks and f) we hate the Knicks and g) he may suck and h) well, we already suck and j) maybe he'll dominate and k) that'll ruin our shot at a lottery pick.

What we're saying here is we want Michael Jordan for us and only us. But what we're also saying is, knowing our luck, he'll probably sell his five percent Wizard ownership, go to the contender of his choice, and we won't even have him as recruiting coordinator when we're finally under the cap for the first time this century. What we're saying is we want him, and need him (otherwise how are we ever going to get on TNT?), but knowing our luck, it may set us back another five years. We don't mean to sound pessimistic, but, remember, we are Wizards fans. We have screwed this up before.

We used to have such a rich tradition. We gave the world Earl the Pearl and Gus Johnson. We won a title as the Bullets in '78, and reached the finals in '79. But by then Elvin Hayes and Wes Unseld were ancient, and Phil Chenier had hurt his back, and Mitch Kupchak had fled to the Lakers, and Bobby D was let go.

The owner's intentions were good (I won't name him, because he broke our hearts by changing OUR name), but he allowed general manager Bob Ferry to sign every has-been under the sun. We had an old Moses Malone and an old Bernard King and an old Gus Williams and an old Dan Roundfield, and all it did was keep us mediocre. Instead of bottoming out and picking up some fantastic draft picks, we'd finish 40-42 or 42-40 and pick 15th or so and draft Kenny Green (Wake Forest) over Karl Malone (Louisiana Tech). We were more interested in being a freak show. We'd draft Manute Bol (10 feet tall) and then Muggsy Bogues (3 feet-tall). Unseld was our remarkably solid coach, always taking a borderline team further than it should go. He had McFilthy and McNasty (Jeff Ruland and Rick Mahorn), and we'd beat you up even though we couldn't make an open 12-footer. The problem was, we should've been losing big. I mean, losing 60 games or something and coming up with an Olajuwon or a Ewing in the draft.

It wasn't until John Nash took over that we figured this out. Nash, in our opinion, was the greatest GM we ever had. We could never win a draft lottery to save our lives, but we lost enough to get access to draft Tom Gugliotta and that gave us trade bait to obtain Chris Webber. That was some day, that day we traded Gugliotta and 25 first round picks (okay, three) to Golden State. We had Juwan Howard and Webber, and then we drafted Rasheed Wallace, and all we needed was a little patience and we'd dominate the East.

Now for all you Webber-for-MVP people this year, you should've seen him when we had him. What a mess! He dislocated his shoulder right away, and then became softer than a baby's bottom. He was afraid to shoot free throws (because he couldn't make them), so he wouldn't drive and he'd settle for three-pointers. He'd have his requisite triple-doubles whenever he'd play his old nemesis, the Warriors, but otherwise, he was always being chased by police and always backing down to the Charles Oakleys of the world.

But, on the other hand, we could see the potential oozing out of him, and we knew he was from a solid family and that he was intelligent, and that he'd figure it all out. But Unseld, the bully, was our general manager by then (after our owner and our woman team president had run Nash out of town), and Unseld was going to put his foot down. He was not going to let Howard get his $100 million and he wasn't going to let Rasheed whine to the refs all the time and he wasn't gonna let Webber have his occasional marijuana arrest. Nope, talent didn't matter to Mr. Unseld. He let Howard slink off to Miami (although David Stern overturned the deal), and he traded Rasheed for an OLD point guard (Rod Strickland) and then he traded Webber, who was up on city murals, for an OLD shooting guard (Mitch Richmond).

Who knew Webber would get himself together and stop shooting threes in Sacramento? We did! Who knew Wallace would manage to get in a good 30 minutes before his nightly ejections in Portland? We did! They were only kids! If we had them both now, we'd be the No. 1 seed in the East! Can't you see?

But it was Wizards tradition. Get old, and get embarrassed.

And so here we are. We're about to finish up our worst season in franchise history, going back to when we were the Chicago Zephyrs, and our new minority owner -- the Great Michael -- is doing a John Nash, bottoming everything out for a fancy lottery pick. We couldn't agree with him more.

But then we hear the news. He's coming back. He's coming back to play for us. Well, maybe for us. We want to celebrate, we want to dance down Constitution Avenue. But we see it for what it is. We know it's wrong. We know it's happening all over again.

Can't you see? We won't be getting Michael Jordan; we'll be getting an OLD Michael Jordan. It's what we do; it's who we are. We are has-beens. We are the Wizards. We are their fans.

All five of us!

Tom Friend is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. E-mail him at

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