THERE ARE probably parts of the world where the news of Michael Jordan's move to Washington is taken to mean he's become president of the United States. That office, though, might be something of a comedown for the man who is certifiably the world's most famous person and probably its most popular; the president, after all, got only 49 percent of the votes last time.

In any event, what is expected of Mr. Jordan is beyond the capabilities of all three branches of government: to revivify a listless basketball team, speed the city's downtown renaissance and help bring people together throughout the region, while also serving as Greater Washington's role model and social star. Whether all this can be accomplished by someone who's commuting between Washington and Chicago is questionable, but for now this city--which has an unquenchable thirst for celebrity of the kind that isn't achieved by prating from behind a podium for the C-SPAN cameras--can enjoy pondering the possibilities.

Mr. Jordan's accession as president of basketball operations and part owner of the Washington Wizards can be credited to a combination of the new and the old: the new wealth being created in the Washington area's flourishing growth industries--communications, science, technology--and the old-fashioned class and civic commitment of Abe Pollin, the team's owner. It was Mr. Pollin who built the arena for basketball and hockey and made sure it went in the right place: downtown. It was, undoubtedly, his reputation and his standing that helped bring Mr. Jordan here.

"I'm going to have my imprints and footprints all over this organization," Mr. Jordan said Wednesday. In the shorter term, Washington area basketball fans can hope that the mere presence of the game's greatest player--and perhaps the most intense competitor it's ever seen--will motivate the underachieving Wizards.

Mr. Jordan, 36 years old and only a year off the court, says he'll practice with the team sometimes: He believes the best way to evaluate a player is to look into his eyes "and see how scared he may be." Those who have admired the Pollin qualities of honesty and loyalty but faulted the lack of ruthlessness, take note: Ruthless is in the house.