Tuesday, October 2, 2001
Jordan watched Lemieux's comeback very closely
PITTSBURGH -- Michael Jordan surprised millions by his
comeback at age 38. He didn't surprise Mario Lemieux.
Not long after Lemieux made his own comeback last season that,
to hockey, was just as unexpected and as riveting as Jordan's is to
basketball, he and Jordan talked several times at length.
Jordan called not only to congratulate Lemieux, but to ask how
much time and preparation Lemieux needed before returning to be
nearly the same player he had been before retiring in 1997.
"Seeing me come back and the excitement, and me doing pretty
well right off the bat, gave him the confidence to start training
and now he's back," Lemieux said Tuesday. "I'm sure he's ready to
go and will be one of the best, if not the best again."
Lemieux, the Pittsburgh Penguins' owner-player, has been saying
the same thing for months, dropping hints Jordan would return even
when many were skeptical about rumors of Jordan's pending comeback.
In March, only days following published reports Jordan might
play again, Lemieux said the two had talked and, "When he comes
back, he's going to be the best in the game."
About a month later, long before Jordan made his comeback
official, Lemieux said, "He's going to give it a shot and he's
working very hard. He's taking his time, he's taking a few months
to get ready, but I'm sure when he gets back, he'll be the best
Lemieux and Jordan played golf several times this summer, with
Jordan appearing in Lemieux's annual charity tournament.
"We don't talk too much about our careers when we get together,
we play golf and have a good time, drink some good wine," Lemieux
said. "I'm pretty excited to see him back. I left him a message
yesterday with him, telling him I'm looking forward to seeing him
play live for the first time in my life."
Lemieux doesn't think Jordan's career will be marred if the
Washington Wizards don't have a successful season, even though
Jordan retired from the Chicago Bulls three years ago after winning
three successive NBA titles and six overall.
"No, not at all," Lemieux said. "The reason he's coming back
is he loves the game and wants to play and it's not too late for
him. With the team he has in Washington, his chances of winning a
championship are pretty slim. But he wants to come back and play
for a couple of years, and it's his life."
Lemieux, however, doesn't know if he would have returned if the
Penguins hadn't been a Stanley Cup contender. The Penguins, who
open the new season Wednesday against Colorado, reached the Eastern
Conference final last season before losing to New Jersey.
"It would have made it tougher for me," Lemieux said. "But
he's got his own reasons for coming back."
Jordan's comeback means Washington has two players often called
the best in their sports: Jordan and Jaromir Jagr, who was traded
by the Penguins to the Capitals after winning five NHL scoring
Asked who Washington's top athlete is now, Lemieux smiled and,
taking the diplomatic approach, said, "I'll stay out of that