A shadowy figure in a parking garage telling Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein to follow the money brought the Watergate scandal to light and brought down an American President. Nearly 30 years later, another intrepid Washington Post reporter broke a story surrounded by incredible secrecy, and it involved a lot of the same Beltway drama that Woodward and Bernstein dealt with in ’72. It even included a shadowy, Deep Throat-like source. Only this time, the person at the center of the story wasn’t Richard Nixon. It was Michael Jordan. And when the story of Jordan returning to the NBA was all over, even the GOAT was impressed that Steve Wyche got to the bottom of the story.
Michael Jordan returned to the NBA with the Washington Wizards in 2000
As anyone who watched The Last Dance remembers, Michael Jordan hung up his high tops after the 1998 NBA Finals. He officially retired (for a second time) on January 13, 1999, as the NBA was about to come back from a lockout.
Jordan only stayed away from the NBA for a year, though. In January 2000, he surprisingly joined the Washington Wizards as a minority owner and president of basketball operations.
The story of Michael Jordan returning to the NBA was a huge one and something the player, his people, and the organization were trying to keep under wraps until the deal was complete.
However, then Washington Post NBA reporter (now an NFL Network reporter) Steve Wyche got a tip as to what was going down with the Wizards, and his path to breaking the story was something that could only happen in Washington D.C.
Steve Wyche recently appeared on the NFL Networks’ The Insiders with NFL insiders Tom Pelissero, Ian Rapoport, and Mike Garafolo to discuss breaking sports news stories. On this show, Wyche shared the incredible story of how he became the reporter to break the news that Jordan was returning to the NBA.
Steve Wyche shared the amazing story of how he broke the MJ to the Wizards story
When NFL Network reporter Steve Wyche sat down with his fellow NFL insiders (watch here on YouTube) to discuss the origins of a “scoop,” even they were impressed by the story that followed.
Wyche recalled the biggest scoop of his career in 2000 while he was with the Washington Post. It started when a trusted Wizards source called him and said, “I was just in a room with some lawyers who are going through paperwork for Michael Jordan to join the Wizards front office.”
The young reporter was incredulous that the greatest basketball player of all time was going to “come out of retirement and work for a franchise that nobody really cares about” in the Wizards. Still, Wyche followed the story and eventually got it confirmed by a Wizards player.
After the confirmation, Wyche took four days to talk to as many people as possible to get all the details right. One of those sources was a person “with the team” who, in true All the President’s Men style, told Wyche he got “one question a day, and if I answer you, you’re wrong, If I don’t answer you, you’re walking down a primrose path.”
The source answered that Jordan is not coming back to play. However, when Wyche asked, “is he coming back to be a part owner?” he got radio silence. “Is he coming back to work in the front office?” Silence again.
Wyche also confirmed through sources at the Golden State Warriors that “Jordan’s right-hand man,” Rod Higgins, was coming to Washington as well. Finally, with the story “ready to roll,” Wyche brought it to legendary Washington Post sports editor George Solomon.
And just like Woodward, Bernstein, and Ben Bradlee brought the Watergate story to Katherine Graham three decades earlier, Wyche and Solomon called the paper’s owner at the time, Katherine’s son Donald, and got the go-ahead to run with it on page A1.
Even His Airness was impressed by Wyche’s reporting
Steve Wyche says that breaking the Michael Jordan to the Washington Wizards story is the proudest he’s ever been of his reporting in his career. Mostly, he shares, because he pieced it together through so many sources without ever calling Jordan’s agent, David Faulk, or anyone in Jordan’s camp.
This allowed him to keep the secret under wraps until he was able to report it.
It was an incredible reporting job, and, in the end, it even impressed Jordan himself.
Wyche followed up his story with a postscript. He said, “[Jordan] had his opening press conference, and I went up and introduced myself. And he was like, ‘you’re good.’ That was really, really, good.”
The whole situation made for a great story, but it wasn’t the end of the story for Jordan and the Wizards.
MJ stayed in the front office for 16 months until the basketball bug got him, and he returned to the NBA court on October 30, 2001, against the New York Knicks.
Jordan would go on to play 142 games over two seasons for the Wizards. He averaged 21.2 points, 4.4 assists, and 5.9 rebounds over the course of his Wizards tenure. He retired for good after his final game vs. the Philadelphia 76ers on April 16, 2003.
All stats courtesy of Basketball Reference