Former Chicago Bulls star Michael Jordan, who is negotiating an arrangement under which he would become the Washington Wizards' director of basketball operations and a minority owner of the team, has established a solid working and personal relationship with majority owner Abe Pollin and is eager to work with Wizards General Manager Wes Unseld, sources close to the discussions said.
Jordan has an agreement in principle with Pollin to join the Wizards as the team's director of basketball operations. However, no deal has been completed, as Jordan's negotiations with the Wizards' minority ownership group, led by America Online Inc. executive Ted Leonsis, continued. At issue, according to sources, is how much equity in the team Jordan would receive. Jordan will not join the team unless he gets some ownership stake in the team, sources said.
Meantime, the relationship Jordan and Pollin established before, and during, the negotiations that allowed them to join forces is solid, according to a source.
Jordan and Pollin were not so friendly a little more than a year ago. At the time the NBA players and team owners were embroiled in a lockout that had shut down the league. During one meeting between representatives of each side, Jordan told Pollin to sell his team, among other things, prompting Pollin to say he felt he was not being shown the proper level of respect.
Jordan's apparent willingness to work with Unseld might mean that Unseld could maintain his current position or hold a similar role with the team while Jordan would have a job in which he would work with Unseld, the source said. Unseld declined to comment.
Wizards Coach Gar Heard said before the team's game last night against the Detroit Pistons that he would not be concerned about his status should Jordan join the organization. Heard was hired by the Wizards this past summer. This is his first full-time head coaching job, although he served as the Dallas Mavericks' interim coach in 1993.
"I'm not worried," Heard said. "It's his call. Coaches get fired every day. I'm not worried one way or the other. I'm here to do a job. Whoever comes in here has to look at the situation."
Heard said if Jordan joins the franchise, it would have only a positive impact.
"No matter what he does, people are going to look at things differently," Heard said. "Like this city. The minute they heard Mike might come here, all of a sudden the whole persona about the Wizards seemed to change [in fans' minds]. Michael has this aura about him. Even playing golf or playing basketball, he is such a competitive person. It has to be a positive, anything he's involved in."
Heard said he has played golf with Jordan, but knows him only on an informal basis.
Should the proposed deal with Jordan fall through, Heard said he doesn't think the Wizards players or other members of the franchise would be that affected, but he added, "I think the city would be disappointed."