Even if you aren’t a diehard NBA fan, you probably know all about Michael Jordan. During his time with the Chicago Bulls, His Airness became a global icon and a living legend; he was seemingly unstoppable, capable of willing his team to not only victory but six championships. MJ’s time with the Washington Wizards, however, was a different story.
If Michael Jordan’s time in Chicago was the stuff of legends, his stint with the Washington Wizards was an unpleasant epilogue that no one really wanted to read. In fact, MJ apparently became such a problem behind the scenes that NBA legend Wes Unseld said he poisoned the Wizards locker room.
Michael Jordan went out on top, then returned with the Washington Wizards
In the world of sports, it’s a fairly normal practice for players to retire after winning a championship; everyone, after all, wants to go out on top. Michael Jordan did just that in Chicago but wasn’t able to stay away from basketball for long.
Jordan, of course, joined the Chicago Bulls out of college and took the NBA by storm. While it took him a bit of time to overcome the Detroit Pistons and their ‘Jordan Rules,’ MJ eventually got over the hump. The Bulls claimed three-straight championships in 1991, 1992, and 1993; after a brief retirement and baseball career, His Airness returned to Chicago, won three more titles, and retired again.
Jordan, however, couldn’t stay away for long. In 2000, he joined the Washington Wizards as part-owner and president of basketball operations; the following fall, he decided to suit up as a player for a last hurrah.
A disappointing spell in the nation’s capital
For basketball fans, seeing Michael Jordan return to the court was a dream come true. Unfortunately for the Washington Wizards, the living legend’s presence didn’t translate into on-court success.
During his time in Washington, D.C., Jordan played 142 games over two seasons; he averaged 21.2 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 4.4 assists per outing and the Wizards failed to make the playoffs during either campaign.
That production wasn’t the problem, though; if anything MJ proved that he was still incredibly talented, regardless of his age. There was a different issue in D.C., however.
While Jordan was never the greatest teammate in Chicago, he was able to carry his team to victory. In Washington, though, he wasn’t able to make the Wizards a success. Instead, the team was stuck in an awkward situation, with an aging legend, rather than a long-term solution, as the main attraction.
During his time with the Wizards, Jordan didn’t pull any punches; he criticized his teammates publicly and questioned their desire. While it’s one thing to push everyone to the brink in pursuit of a championship, things will land a bit differently on a mediocre team thats not even headed for the playoffs.
Wes Unseld said that Michael Jordan ‘poisoned’ the Washington Wizards locker room
Even at the time, it was clear that Michael Jordan and the Washington Wizards weren’t a match made in heaven. Things in the locker room, however, may have been even worse than we thought.
During his time with the Washington Post, Mike Wise had an off the record conversation with Wes Unseld about Jordan’s comeback with the Wizards. While the details remained off the record for years, we now know what the D.C. legend said.
“The most damning thing I remember hearing. And God rest his soul, I can give up his anonymity now: Wes Unseld told me this,” Wise explained on a recent episode of Slate’s Hang Up and Listen podcast. “He said, ‘Michael has been great for many of us in this organization in ways that has raised the value of the franchise, has made us respectable in other ways. And yet, he’s poisoned the locker room.”
Understandably, Wise asked Unseld how he knew that Jordan had ruined the locker room. The big man responded with a damning piece of evidence.
“How do I know that? I just went around and asked every player if they would chip in for a retirement gift for him, give him something nice. All of them turned their backs on me,” Unseld explained, according to Wise’s retelling. “And [Wise] said, “Every player?” And [Unseld] goes, “Unanimous.”
Purely based on his playing career, Michael Jordan is deservedly considered an NBA icon. As a teammate, though, His Airness could apparently leave something to be desired.
Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference