One fan stood quietly behind the home bench displaying a sign that apparently reflected the feelings of many in the announced crowd of 17,072 who scattered around MCI Center last night to watch the Washington Wizards let a 16-point lead slip away in a 112-107 loss to the Detroit Pistons.
The sign said simply: "We Want Mike."
Across the court, another fan held one with an equally simple message: "Abe and Mike: Make it happen. I'm begging you."
While the Wizards lost for the 26th time in 38 games of this frustrating season, the possibility of the greatest player in NBA history joining the franchise as a minority owner and director of basketball operations had people excited.
"It would be a great move for the organization," said Wayne Jefferson, a housing manager from Wilmington, Del. "Everything he touches turns to gold. The Wizards need someone like him."
As negotiations between Jordan and the Wizards continue, the mention of "His Airness" has added a burst of excitement to a franchise that has been to the playoffs once in the last 12 years, has not won a playoff series in 18 years and is mired in last place in the Atlantic Division. A season that began with high hopes has been drained of hope with more than half the season remaining.
Lacking youth and team speed and with no first-round draft choice thanks to the 1994 acquisition of Chris Webber, the Wizards don't have the brightest of futures. So last night, while thousands of area sports fans were huddled around televisions to watch the Redskins play Tampa Bay in the NFC semifinals, a few thousand hearty souls still cared enough about basketball to make the journey to MCI Center.
Wizards majority owner Abe Pollin and team president Susan O'Malley did not attend last night's game. General Manager Wes Unseld declined to comment on the possibility of Jordan joining the Wizards.
Had Jordan shown up, he would have seen the challenge that faces him. From the thousands of empty seats to the big lead that got away, the worst of the Wizards was on display. No one is quite sure exactly what Jordan would bring to the franchise, but just the thought of his charisma, track record and star power was enough for some.
"It would enhance everything about the franchise," said Norman Oliver, a city councilman from Wilmington, Del. "It would raise the level of play just because guys respect him so much. Just the fact that we're sitting here talking about Michael Jordan is an indication of the excitement he would bring."
Jordan's first challenge would be to make trades that would clear salary cap room and then to lure some of the best free agents to Washington. Reston native Grant Hill will be one of the most sought-after free agents next summer, and he had all of his marvelous skills on display last night by scoring 39 points, grabbing 6 rebounds and handing off 6 assists.
He took control of the game in the final moments, scoring 15 points in the fourth quarter. Asked what he would do this summer if Jordan telephoned to ask him to consider playing for the Wizards, Hill declined to speculate.
"I'm still not sure what he's doing--or why," Hill said. "I don't know what his role will be. As far as playing here if he's here, I haven't spent one second thinking about that."
Does he like playing in Washington?
"I like coming here and playing the team I grew up rooting for," he said with a smile.
Would he like to come here more often?
"I don't know. I might see too much of my parents. I just don't know."
Others said that having Jordan working for the Wizards could be nothing but a bonus. "When you can be associated with the greatest player who ever lived, you're going to benefit," Pistons guard Jerry Stackhouse said. "It can't help but benefit the franchise. He knows what it takes to win. He knows from the inside out. If you're a player with a chance to come here, you know you might have an opportunity to work on your game with Michael Jordan. I think guys know that kind of teaching would make them better.
"He's a special guy to every player in this league. If a legend like that calls, you'd be eager to listen. The same would be true of Magic Johnson or Larry Bird and the people you think of as being a legend."