Former Chicago Bulls star Michael Jordan and Washington Wizards majority owner Abe Pollin have reached an agreement in principle that would give Jordan control of the National Basketball Association team's basketball operations, sources with knowledge of the situation said yesterday.
The agreement is not definitive, the sources said, as ownership equity of the Wizards still needs to be resolved. One of the remaining components of a deal is the amount of equity in the franchise minority owners Ted Leonsis and Jon Ledecky would provide to Jordan, one of the sources said. Leonsis and Ledecky own 44 percent of the team and they have been given the right of first refusal by Pollin when he decides to sell his majority share.
Details of the agreement in principle between Pollin and Jordan were not known as of last night. Pollin, Leonsis, Jordan and Jordan's agent, David Falk, could not be reached to comment yesterday.
Sources said that the role Jordan would assume would give him authority over trading, signing and drafting players and the hiring and firing of front-office personnel, including the coaching staff.
If Jordan is hired for such a job, it is unknown what role General Manager Wes Unseld would have with the team, if any. Unseld declined to comment yesterday.
Meantime, members of the team greeted positively news that Jordan could become the key man in the front office, saying he would command immediate respect within the organization and from players around the NBA.
Some Wizards players and league officials also said Jordan would bring increased national attention to the franchise.
"I think automatically people will look at the organization differently," point guard Rod Strickland said. "If Michael Jordan is involved, that's automatic. People would respect the organization more. It would just be a whole different outlook all together.
"Mike is respect. Everybody respects Mike and respects his knowledge of the game. Everybody respects his competitiveness. From that alone he's going to turn things around."
Wizards Coach Gar Heard and his coaching staff did not know about the team's negotiations with Jordan until Wednesday. Heard would not comment on specifics surrounding the five-time NBA most valuable player possibly joining the organization, but said, "Any time anyone's able to get Michael involved in the league, that's great."
Jordan has never held a management position in the NBA, but team officials around the league predicted Jordan's knowledge of players, most of whom he played against as recently as the 1997-98 season, would give him an inside track in making the transition from player to management.
"One thing, Michael would know the personnel in the league better than most general managers because he's played against most of these guys," Philadelphia 76ers General Manager Billy King said. "The fact that he understands guys' desires and how competitive they were when he played against him gives him a huge advantage.
"The reason Michael has been so successful is because of his competitive drive. He will take that competitiveness off the court into the office."
Said Nets General Manager John Nash, formerly general manager of the Washington Bullets, "I imagine he's as shrewd a businessman as he was a player."
Jordan, who retired prior to the lockout-shortened 1999 season after leading the Bulls to their sixth championship in eight years, was scheduled to participate in the Bob Hope Classic golf tournament next week in California but withdrew Wednesday. It is not known if his decision to pull out of the tournament was related to his negotiations with the Wizards.
An Eastern Conference general manager who asked not to be named said Jordan would not be walking into a job with the Wizards without thoroughly doing his homework.
"I'm sure Michael Jordan is very aware of the happenings with the franchise," the general manager said.
Should Jordan assume a job with the Wizards before the NBA's Feb. 24 deadline for trading players, he probably would consider moving players he felt have not played up to their potential, the general manager said. Jordan also may try to deal players to create room under the league's salary cap so he could try to lure a high-profile free agent, such as Detroit forward and Reston native Grant Hill or San Antonio forward Tim Duncan, to the Wizards, added the GM.
"If his first signing is himself, that would be a stroke of genius," said Detroit Pistons General Manager Rick Sund.
Jordan has said he will not play again, and several sources said if Jordan becomes involved with the team it would be solely in management.
Staff writer Mark Asher contributed to this report.