After the Washington Wizards' 109-83 loss Friday night to the Phoenix Suns, an angry Michael Jordan said that he will no longer try to carry the team to the playoffs.
"I'm not going to try to save this team," said Jordan after scoring a team-high 14 points. "It's not my job. My job is not to try to carry this team like I did in '84 for the Bulls. We've got young, talented players on this team. If they're going to sit back and expect that I'm going to score 50 points they got a nice little awakening coming up. I told them at halftime, I'm not going to try to carry the team.
"I'm going to move the ball, draw the attention and get you guys the ball. You shoot it. You score it. I'll go rebound and try to play defense but don't expect me to try to put an 'S' on my chest and go out and play for these guys. We've got 14 games left. I'm going to try to enjoy myself. If you guys want to play hard basketball, we'll play hard basketball. If you guys want to take it off, I could be playing golf somewhere."
Friday's game was the first of a six-game Western Conference road trip for the Wizards, who are one game behind the Milwaukee Bucks for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Asked whether he planned on giving his teammates a tongue-lashing like the one he delivered after last Sunday's loss to the New York Knicks, Jordan, 40, said with a glare: "I'm not wasting my breath. I'll hold on to my breath. I can do other things with it. I can have a nice cigar."
Jordan, who plans to retire at the end of the season and return to his job as president of basketball operations, did not distance himself from the team's failures but did say he's fed up with players not matching his will to compete.
"The best way for me to go out is to see that someone has to have the passion for the game like I do," Jordan said. "It doesn't have to be winning. I don't want it to be losing but you can lose with passion, you can lose with competition, competitiveness. You can't lose like this. This is disappointing to go out this way. It's one game but if this is any indication of how the next 14 are going to be, good Lord, I need to go home quick."
Jordan also said he thinks some of his teammates may already be making plans for an early vacation.
"Why should they [quit]?," Jordan asked. "It's not like they've done anything. I don't think anybody in here [besides me] has won a championship other than [Tyronn] Lue and he was a reserve."
Jordan also hinted at some of the underlying problems with the team's chemistry.
"Everybody wants to be treated the same," Jordan said, almost in scolding terms. "Unfortunately, everybody's not the same. You don't have 12 Michael Jordans in this locker room just like we don't have 12 Kwame Browns. Everybody's different. Everybody's going to be treated differently. If you [get upset] that some guys can make a mistake and another guy can make the same mistake and not get yelled at, that's tough. That's how it comes in this game. You have to live with it, you have to go out there and play with it.
"We've got too many guys worrying about the Joneses next door and they're not doing their jobs. Do your job, don't worry about who's doing their job next door, stay connected and play the game."
Jordan's remark seemed to be a veiled criticism of Brown, the second-year forward who has complained that other players get to stay in games or don't get reprimanded by Coach Doug Collins if they make the same mistakes he does.
Brown, who had five points and five rebounds in 20 minutes in Phoenix, was replaced after a series of defensive breakdowns and swore at Collins as he walked to the bench. Collins glared back but did not respond to Brown, who continued complaining. Assistant coaches Larry Drew and Patrick Ewing took turns talking to Brown shortly thereafter.
Collins refuses to comment about his relationship with Brown; however, he said he is as dumbfounded as Jordan is about his team's desire and composure.
"I sure hoped we would be better but I still don't know this team and we just played our 68th game," Collins said.
Veteran forward Christian Laettner, one of the few players who has consistently played at a high level since the all-star break in February, said that if the team wants to make the playoffs, Collins shouldn't bother playing anyone who hasn't proven himself.
"Have the people out there that are going to compete and play hard," Laettner said. "Stress defense. There should be a sense of urgency. You'd think there would be. If everyone doesn't have it, then coach needs to find the five guys that do have it and, whoever that might be, play them."