May 20, 2022

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The Sports Fanatics

Michael Jordan’s NBA return with the Wizards, 20 years later

Two months into the season, Michael Jordan looked bad. This is not to say he had looked bad for the whole of his first 26 games with the Wizards; that was a matter of some debate. The numbers were forgiving from some angles (23 points, six rebounds and five assists a night) and harsher from others (a shooting percentage that nudged just up above 40). The Wizards, who had set playoff qualification as a reasonable benchmark of comeback-season success, sat at a shaky 14–13. But on the night of Dec. 27, 2001, things reached a nadir no measure of nuance could rescue. In a blowout loss to the Indiana Pacers, the 38-year-old Jordan was sweatlogged and slow, hobbled by the pain of recent operations to drain fluid from his knee and not yet buoyed by their effects. He clanked eight of his 10 shots, and, in the third quarter, coach Doug Collins let the best player in the history of the game strap on the ice packs. Jordan finished with six points, then the fewest of his career.