5. MICHAEL JORDAN to Washington
Mr. Jordan goes to Washington, a trip that ended like so many members of Congress: initial hope that became more misses than highlights. Still, wasn’t it great to see Jordan back in a uniform? Some are saying Manning shouldn’t play lest he become like another ex-Colt, Johnny Unitas, who spent his final year in 1973 looking awful in San Diego. That’s what was said about Washington, where the talk of a tainted legacy came up because of the contrast of the awful Wizards and the incredible Jordan.
But almost no comparison can be made because of the pure hype around the nation’s capital. This was an un-retirement like no other in the NBA — at least it was billed that way.
In his 142 games as a Wizard, he averaged 22.9 and 20.0 points per game in those last two seasons, and his turnovers per game in 2002-03 (2.1 per) were tied for the second-lowest of his career. The central reason we call Jordan the game’s greatest was for his playoff performances and six NBA Finals MVPs. Neither Wizard team even got the the playoffs, finishing 37-45 each year. It was fun to watch, but ultimately a novelty act. Instead, we remember his block on Ron Mercer.
4 and 3. CHARLES BARKLEY and CLYDE DREXLER to Houston
These two played two seasons together as Rockets, starting in 1996-97, a goodbye from established teams for both. While Barkley started in Philly, he became a bonafide star with his playoff run in Phoenix (a span that lasted four seasons in the desert) that got to the Finals in 1993. Give it up for him, though: He continued his 15-year streak of averaging a double-double and had his best year of 19.2 points and 13.5 boards in ’96-97.
Drexler took Portland to two NBA Finals — 1990 and 1992 — but lost to the Pistons and the Bulls before arriving in Houston, where he’d played his college ball. If you want to talk about pure scoring ability, check out Drexler’s line once he got to the Rockets in the final four NBA seasons of his 16-year career: 20.7, 18.1, 17.7, 18.7.
The All-Star pairing with Hakeem Olajuwon never got all the way, though. Get that trio together five years earlier and we might have been talking about a Big Three for the ages. Instead, they lost in the Western Finals to Utah, 4-2, in 1997. They really only had one shot and didn’t make it.