It’s not the first time D.C. has welcomed another franchise’s hero in the twilight of his career. Here’s a look at five other legends who made names for themselves elsewhere before coming to the District.
In January 2000, a year after he retired as a player from the Chicago Bulls for the second time, the Wizards hired Jordan as their president of basketball operations.
“I’m going to have my imprints and footprints all over this organization,” Jordan said at the time. “I look forward to turning this thing around. Right now we’re an underachieving team.”
With Jordan serving his first year in the front office under majority owner Abe Pollin, Washington missed the playoffs for the 12th time in 13 seasons. In September 2001, three months after the Wizards used the first pick in the draft to select high school center Kwame Brown, the 38-year-old Jordan sold his ownership stake in the team and announced his return to the court.
“I feel there is no better way of teaching young players than to be on the court with them as a fellow player, not just in practice, but in NBA games,” Jordan, a five-time MVP who won six NBA titles with the Bulls, said in a statement.
Jordan played 142 games over the next two seasons with Washington, averaging 21.2 points, 5.9 rebounds and 4.4 assists. In December 2001, he scored 51 points in a win over the Charlotte Hornets. Jordan helped sell a lot of tickets and brought relevance to a franchise that lacked it, but the Wizards didn’t make the playoffs in his two years as a player.
During a heated meeting with Jordan after the 2002-03 season, Pollin informed “His Airness” that he would not be rehired as the team’s president of basketball operations. After receiving the news, Jordan hopped in his Mercedes convertible with Illinois plates and drove back to Chicago.
One day after the Buffalo Bills released Smith for salary cap reasons in February 2000, Washington signed the pass rusher to a five-year, $25 million deal.
“It’s the missing link — a pure pass rusher who is best of class,” Washington owner Daniel Snyder said of the 36-year-old Smith, who spent the first 15 seasons of his career in Buffalo, making 13 Pro Bowls and climbing to No. 2 on the NFL’s all-time sack list. “I was shocked that the opportunity was about.”
Smith was just one of a flurry of free agent signings that included Deion Sanders, Jeff George, Adrian Murrell and Mark Carrier, making Washington the favorite to repeat as division champion. Smith had 10 sacks in his first season in Washington, but Coach Norv Turner was fired after Week 14 and the team finished a disappointing 8-8.
It didn’t get much better.
“It’s tough, and that’s an understatement,” Smith said during Washington’s 0-5 start under Marty Schottenheimer in 2001. “It’s a day-to-day struggle. Right now, it’s the toughest stretch of my career. I didn’t see it coming.”
Washington rallied to finish 8-8 that season. It slipped to 7-9 in 2002, Steve Spurrier’s first season at the helm. After posting 24 sacks over his first three years in Washington, Smith broke Reggie White’s career sack record with his 199th, a takedown of Giants backup Jesse Palmer in Week 14 of the 2003 season.
“Good things happen to individuals when teams win,” Smith said after the game, Washington’s fifth and final win of the season.
Washington released Smith in February 2004, ending his Hall of Fame career.
Coming off a 103-loss season, the Nationals signed Rodriguez to a two-year, $6 million deal at the 2009 winter meetings. The 14-time all-star and 13-time Gold Glove-winning catcher, who won the American League MVP award in 1999, was the first free agent Mike Rizzo acquired as Washington’s full-time general manager.
The 38-year-old Rodriguez, who spent the first 12 years of his career with the Rangers before stints with the Marlins, Tigers, Yankees and Astros, was a valuable clubhouse presence for an organization on the rise.
“I thought it was an important signing for us at the time,” Rizzo said in 2017, before “Pudge” became the first player to have played for the Nationals to be inducted to the Hall of Fame. “It turned out to be one of the best things we’ve done. He taught us to be a professional franchise.”
Rodriguez appeared in 111 games for Washington in 2010, and he was behind the plate for Stephen Strasburg’s 14-strikeout debut. After a hot start that saw him hitting .340 on June 16, Rodriguez finished with a .266 average and four home runs.
The Nationals lost 93 games in Rodriguez’s first year in Washington and 81 in his second and final season with the team. The next year, Washington won 98 games and the National League East to qualify for the playoffs for the first time.
“I’m very happy and proud now to say that I was a big part of that,” Rodriguez said in 2017.
The Capitals acquired the 38-year-old Fedorov from the Columbus Blue Jackets for prospect Theo Ruth before the 2008 trade deadline. The Russian forward won three Stanley Cups and the 1994 Hart Trophy as the league MVP during his 13 seasons with the Detroit Red Wings to start his NHL career.
Fedorov scored two goals and had 11 assists over the remainder of the 2007-08 regular season, helping the Capitals qualify for the playoffs for the first time in the Alex Ovechkin era. The next season was Fedorov’s last in the NHL. In the 2009 playoffs, he scored one of the greatest goals in Capitals history, beating none other than Lundqvist with five minutes remaining in Game 7 of Washington’s first-round series against the Rangers to break a 1-1 tie. The game-winner helped the Capitals complete a comeback from a 3-1 series deficit.
Fedorov played three more seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League before retiring.
“That was fun times,” Fedorov said of his two years with the Capitals ahead of his Hockey Hall of Fame induction in 2015. “It was a young team. A young [Ovechkin], a young Alex Semin, Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Green. All of those guys were good, talented players, and to have a mix of the older players, usually it give them a chance to shine and be on their feet and play well.”
Stoitchkov, who scored 83 goals in two stints with Barcelona during the 1990s and led Bulgaria to the semifinals of the 1994 World Cup, joined D.C. United as a player-assistant coach in 2003 after three injury-riddled seasons with MLS’s Chicago Fire.
“Hristo brings United a mother lode of world-class experience and majestic skill,” then-United coach Ray Hudson said. “He’s a living legend and will be an inspiration on and off the field — plus he’s a lion-heart.”
The fiery Stoitchkov’s only season in D.C. got off to a rocky start. In a preseason friendly against American University, the 37-year-old’s slide tackle left a college freshman with two compound fractures in his leg and earned Stoitchkov a two-game suspension. The injured player, Freddy Llerena, filed a lawsuit in 2007 that was eventually settled.
“I have a bad, bad memory that will exist for all my history as a soccer player, because I never injured another player,” Stoitchkov told MLSSoccer.com in 2014. “It was a soccer tragedy that I fell on top of a kid and broke his leg, and this will stay with me my whole life.”
Nicknamed “The Dagger,” Stoitchkov scored five goals and five assists in 21 appearances, including nine starts, for a United squad that finished 10-11-9. He retired after the season.
Honorable mention: Defensive lineman and Pro Football Hall of Famer Deacon Jones played the final season of his 14-year career with Washington in 1974 and even kicked an extra point in his last regular season game.
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