THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: There is breaking news this hour for which most basketball fans have been waiting. Tonight, it does appear that Air Jordan will fly again. CNN Sports Illustrated has just confirmed that Michael Jordan, at the age of 38, is getting ready to announce his return to active duty as a player. This, for the Washington Wizards. Currently, Jordan serves as a president for that team. Jordan says it's for the love of the game. But does he still have what it takes?
Our coverage tonight begins with CNNSI's Marty Burns, who joins us by telephone in Chicago. And, Marty, you were at a gym where Michael Jordan was working out tonight. After the workout he came out and spoke with you and just a couple other reporters. What was said? What was on the mind of Michael Jordan?
MARTY BURNS, CNN SPORTS ILLUSTRATED: Well, Michael was clearly in a good frame of mind today. He said that he won his pickup game and that he was feeling good. And I think he wanted to maybe grease the skids a little bit for this coming announcement. He didn't come right out and say tonight that he would for sure play on the NBA, but he all but confirmed it. And he said that he's feeling good and the only thing that could stop him now would be if he has a sudden flare- up of the tendinitis that's been bothering him in his knees. But he said that the knees felt great and he was ready to go.
HEMMER: You mention the tendinitis, you mention his knees. Overall, how is his health, and how has he characterized his workouts?
BURNS: Well, he says he's good right now, feeling real good. And he's been giving us periodic ratings of his game. And today he upped his rating to a 7.5, maybe an 8, he said. He had indicated in previous weeks that if he to a nine, that that would be what he would need to get to make his comeback, and he was at 7 just a few days ago. So he's up already one point, and he said he was feeling real good and ready to go.
HEMMER: And why the 10-day delay before he's to make it official, Marty?
BURNS: Well, I think he wants to just make sure that he's 100 percent healthy, he said. He wants to -- the knee kind of comes and goes at times, and he just said he wanted to make sure that it was all 100 percent. And he has a press conference. You know, there's a mechanism in place for a press conference within 10 days, he said. But everything's set to go.
HEMMER: All right, Marty Burns by telephone in Chicago. Marty, going to have you hang on there one moment.
Again, just a recap for our viewers, it appears that Michael Jordan, giving the strongest indications yet that he will return to the playing surface this year for the Washington Wizards. By the way, the Wizards open up at Madison Square Garden in New York City against the Knicks in late October.
With us now from CNNSI, Fred Hickman joins us. And, Fred, we've talked about this many times, just between the two of us. Did it appear inevitable that Jordan would make this step?
FRED HICKMAN, CNNSI: Well, in my mind, I think Michael has been coming back ever since we started talking about this some months ago. I think that you know, some words have been dropped here and there, and the rumors have been going around. But I think in his mind, this is something that he's been wanting to do for probably the last year or so. So I'm not really shocked by this.
I guess the only thing I'm surprised by hearing is the fact that he's not totally driven by winning championships. And I don't know if I buy that, even though he told that to Marty and the guys. Covered him for a lot of years and I'll tell you, the one thing about Michael Jordan, you don't went six NBA championships and five MVPs in those championship finals without having a burning desire to win it all. So I thinks it's going to be a good influence on the other guys, but I do think he wants to win.
HEMMER: The indication he gave tonight with reporters like Marty was that he quote/unquote has "matured," and that he believes winning a championship could be equated -- given the situation the Wizards have been in for the past several years of not being a winning team -- just getting to the playoffs might be a victory in itself. Do you buy that?
HICKMAN: I do buy that, but I don't buy the fact that that's all he wants. I think he's going to be around -- and Marty could speak of this a little bit more -- for more than just the one season. And I think his goal is to build something special in Washington.
HEMMER: Back to Marty Burns now by telephone in Chicago. Marty, how much longer will these workouts continue, and what more can you tell us about the workouts Jordan has undergone thus far?
BURNS: Well, they're scheduled to go to the end of this week. That's when all the players are going to break up and head home before the training camps start in October. And that's where Michael is getting this mid-September date. He knew that this would be breaking up at that time, and he'd be able to make his decision then.
The games have been played, they're very intense. This isn't summer pickup games that you would expect to see at rec league or something like that. They're officiated by NBA refs at times, and the players are all high-level players, like Penny Hardaway, Michael Finley, Antoine Walker, Charles Oakley. Those are just some of the players who have been in the camp this week and in past weeks.
HEMMER: And, Marty, have you seen him work out in person?
BURNS: No. Media is not allowed into the...
HEMMER: At any point over the past several months, no one has seen him work out?
BURNS: No. Some of the friends of players and that kind of thing, and some of the management personnel at the facility have been able to see him. And, you know, Michael -- out of respect for Michael, his friends, players and most of these spectators haven't talked about it too much. But you do pick up little things coming out of these games, and the word from some of the players and little comments here and there has been that Michael has looked very good in recent weeks, once his knee started to feel better. And they say that he looks really good and he's ready to play.
HEMMER: Yes, but, Marty, quickly here, do they talk about him in terms of being the superstar we once remember him as?
BURNS: No, they don't. I don't think anybody expects him to be the player at age 38 that he was when he was at -- when he was 32 or 31. But they say he's a smarter player and that he can still get the job done.
HEMMER: All right, Marty. Marty Burns, by telephone in Chicago.
Back to Fred Hickman again here at the CNN center in Atlanta. When people talk about Michael Jordan walking on a court, it's quite likely he could go up against a guy like Allen Iverson, who is, no doubt, as quick as anybody you'll find. When people considered this, NBA analysts, coaches, the players with whom you speak, what do they say about the potential for those match-ups?
HICKMAN: Well, I think that they're looking forward to those matchups, a number of players around the league, because I think that, you know, since those three years have passed and kind of Michael's mantle has been passed along to other people, they feel a little bit put upon. And I think this is challenging their credibility as far as being the future superstars of the league. So I think we'll see some inspired efforts coming from those guys.
And by the way, if you don't know a lot about the Wizards, you will, because both Turner Sports and NBC television have the options now to pick up a lot more Washington Wizards games. I'd expect that to happen.
HEMMER: We like to hear that. OK, Fred, thanks for your help tonight. Fred Hickman at CNNSI, Marty Burns by telephone in Chicago.
Certainly, this is not the first high-profile athlete who has come out of retirement to pursue his dreams and goals once again. Tonight, Tom Rinaldi on other high-profile athletes who have returned to the playing surface.
ANNOUNCER: Chicago with the lead! That may have been the last shot Michael Jordan will ever take in the NBA. If that's the last image of Michael Jordan, how magnificent is it?
TOM RINALDI, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): "It is not the critic who counts. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, who knows his place shall never be with those timid and cold souls who know neither victory, nor defeat."
Teddy Roosevelt, who wrote those words, never met Michael Jordan. But the words still seem to mark Jordan's mission. Yes, there's a lot to lose when you are already a statue, but Michael Jordan refuses to rust.
BOB COSTAS, NBC SPORTS: He's done a half-dozen encores, brought the house down. And now, after the curtain apparently fell for the final time, he's rushing back into the lobby pulling the patrons back into the theater, going, wait, wait, wait. One more thing. It just doesn't feel right.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He'll still be a very fine basketball player, but I doubt very seriously that he'll ever be able to live up to what he was doing at the time when he finished, particularly that storybook finish, with that last shot.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do I want him to do it? No. Because I would never want him to mess with the legacy, the things that made him be the best that's ever played. I would never want him to -- anything to go wrong.
RINALDI: Thirteen seasons in Chicago. Ten scoring titles, five MVPs. He won a championship in each of his last six full seasons. The perfect ending.
So why do it? Why risk failure? Why endanger a legacy in a comeback? Perhaps to serve the very same drive and desire that forged the greatest career in NBA history. He left the game, but did the game and its drive and desire leave him?
ALLEN IVERSON, PHILADELPHIA 76ERS: People say he's 39 years old. He can't come back and do what he's has done all through his career. I won't be the one to say that. I mean, he knows what he has inside of him. And he has one of the biggest hearts that ever stepped out on the dance floor.
KOBE BRYANT, LOS ANGELES LAKERS: If Mike wants to come back, God bless him. I mean, I know he's going to work extremely hard to get himself into shape, in playing shape to compete and to be the best. So if he wants to come back, God bless him. I wish him the best.
RINALDI: In sports, career postscripts rarely read well. We see Willy Mays as a Met, Joe Namath as a Ram, John Unitas is as Charger. We shake our heads, trying to clear the picture. But we also see Lance Armstrong in the Tour de France, or Mario Lemieux on the ice, igniting their worlds and shining a glare on their sports all over again.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think the main thing is to prepare yourself physically, first of all, and mentally, that you're going to have some ups and downs during your comeback. You're not always going to feel 100 percent, and that's the main thing, if you missed two or three years.
RINALDI: Since retiring, Michael Jordan didn't leave the arena, literally. He could be spotted on occasion in the ozone of an owner's box, peering down from on high in tie and cuff links. Perhaps he's trying to clear that picture. Perhaps he still has a need for victory again, at the immediate risk of defeat.
In Los Angeles, I'm Tom Rinaldi.
HEMMER: For more on this at this time, you can head to our Web site at cnn.com, and while there, head our Quick Vote. Should Michael Jordan return to play in the NBA? That's on-line right now.
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