The NBA knew there was no better way to revive the league than having the greatest player of all time back.
For NBA fans, Michael Jordan’s second and final return in 2001 was a decision he made out of itch to play the game he loved the most. But the story didn’t begin and end with that. According to a former Washington Wizards beat reporter, it was also a smart move to save the NBA.
Less colorful without MJ
When the greatest basketball player known to man leaves for good, it’s very inevitable that the stock of the league takes a dip. That’s basically what happened when Jordan retired in 1998 and then-Wizards journalist and The Washington Post writer Steve Wyche saw it firsthand.
“During the 2000–01 season, the young Wizards had floundered to a 19–63 record, the third-worst in the NBA, and drew the 12th-fewest fans in the league… TV ratings had suffered since Jordan retired from the Bulls in 1998, with a labor dispute condensing the ’99 season and NBA brass fretting over the marketability of a new generation of stars. The Sept. 11 attacks cast a pall over the sports world, turning routine events into security-laden shows of resolve,” Wyche wrote in a Sports Illustrated article in 2022.
The NBA needed a savior
From a marketing standpoint, there was no better way to revive the most revered basketball league in the world from falling than having MJ back. So, in September of 2001, a deal with the Wizards was closed and the savior arrived to put the NBA back on the map.
“The gold standard was really Jordan, in terms of what a player should be, how he should conduct himself, his competitiveness,” a thrilled then-NBA executive Stu Jackson said of Jordan’s return in 2001. “I mean, he was the guy.”
Seemingly aware of the magnitude of his epic second NBA comeback, Jordan did not waste time and made his presence felt in and outside the NBA. He “took a veteran’s minimum contract and donated the sum of it to 9/11 charities,” a decision that pleased not only the Wizards organization and the NBA, but also the entire country.
“To have the greatest basketball player that ever played playing on my team,” former Wizards principal owner Abe Pollin remarked. “With all the tragedies that have befallen our country the last couple weeks and the mood being what it is, a little good news like this is really a good thing.”
Sadly, Jordan clearly wasn’t the same player when he played for Washington. However, the overall impact of his return in 2001 still gave justice to what it implied: The return of the GOAT.