In ESPN’s The Last Dance, the final days of Michael Jordan’s career are dissected in great detail. Across 10 episodes, the series portrays a sometimes brutally honest version of Jordan. He’s a man driven by resentment just as often as the will to win. It ends as he wraps up his time with the Chicago Bulls as a winner, proving all of his critics wrong once and for all.
That’s where The Last Dance ends, but it turned out to be another false retirement for basketball’s favorite son. The tidy ending of the Bulls dynasty gave way to Jordan’s controversial — and for some, forgotten — time with the Washington Wizards. He did a postmortem interview, of sorts, with Cigar Aficionado back in 2005 that covered this topic, and it’s worth revisiting today.
Michael Jordan’s career coda is underrated
Jordan’s Wizards tenure with the Wizards is usually written off as a misguided end to an otherwise incredible career. Perhaps that’s true, given he didn’t pull off the feat Tom Brady just did with his late-career switch to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
This Jordan was not a poor basketball player, though. He was the best player at his age, and continued to break records such as becoming the first player to score 40 points at age 40.
He stayed healthy in his final season, the only player to hit the floor for all 82 games on the 2002-2003 Wizards. According to Ballislife, he had incredible superstar-level games throughout his time in Washington.
That includes a 51 point game at 38, a 45 point game at 39, and a 43 point game (with 10 rebounds!) at 40. Jordan was still capable of putting on a show even with his physicality greatly diminished compared to his Chicago heyday.
Despite Michael Jordan’s feats with the Wizards, he has regrets
Those underrated successes in Washington don’t mean Jordan doesn’t have his regrets. He tried his best to set himself up for success, reuniting with his first Bulls coach, Doug Collins.
Jordan seized control as something of a combination general manager, coach, and player. He put everything into trying to make his latest return to the NBA work. The problem ended up being these very factors.
Instead, he simply proved that he was better than most players his age. Jerry Stackhouse, a teammate at the time, thought Jordan should’ve focused on playing, NBC Sports reports.
Jordan intervened when the offense was running through Stackhouse more than him, despite the plan winning games more often than not. It turned the season into something of a vanity project for Jordan, something he recognizes honestly today.
The version of Jordan seen in The Last Dance squares with this. His retrospective on his own career shows a man obsessed with winning at any cost. A man who would move the ball if the situation called for it. With the Wizards, his priorities shifted to promoting himself above the success of the team.
The biggest mistake made on the Wizards
Jordan told Cigar Aficionado that there was one major mistake he made in Washington: being far too demanding of his teammates. “I […] thought I was being innovative in my job by going down and evaluating the talent firsthand,” Jordan said. He continues,
“I became more critical of them because of the way I played the game and the way I’d approached the game, and the players didn’t respond to that. […] That was one of the biggest mistakes that I feel I made in Washington.”
Former Wizards general manager Wes Unseld — himself a former player — revealed that Jordan’s aggressive nature and high expectations poisoned the locker room against him.
Jordan the legend was one thing; Jordan the co-worker, no longer at the height of his powers, was another. While Jordan’s on-the-court performance in Washington was not exactly disastrous, his tenure on the team essentially was.