By Steve Czaban Special to Published Oct 04, 2001 at 4:58 AM

This is a column in appreciation of "Jordan the Gambler." In appreciation of a man who likes to court risk, dance with failure and flirt with embarrassment. In appreciation of a man who believes "action" is the juice of life, the thrill of the chase.

Now before you get off on a conspiracy rant about how he's only coming back now because his secret "second suspension" by the league for gambling has finally expired, stop. This is not that column. As Jack Nicholson said in "As Good As It Gets," "Go sell crazy somewhere else, we're all stocked up here."

The saying goes: "Success is a journey, not a destination." We in the media have been obsessed with the lofty "destination" Jordan's incredible athletic desire has created for us to admire. Two 3-Peats. The storybook ending. What we didn't understand was the pleasure Jordan got from the struggle to get there.

Jordan's life story is a series of bets, or dares, to keep him sharp, motivated, and in essence, "alive." The ill-fated stab at playing baseball, the thousands of dollars lost on the golf course to guys like Slim Bouler and Richard Esquinas. The second comeback after two years chasing curveballs. Hopping in basketball bed with the likes of Dennis Rodman. And now the Wizards.

For those of us who see no wrong in the occasional "sporting wager" there is an appreciation to Jordan putting something on the line even greater than money itself. After all, money to MJ has long ago been made irrelevant. Jordan the Gambler has pushed his six rings in the middle of the table. Jordan has pushed the awe and fear he inspired in other NBA players into the middle of the table. And he has pushed the nearly universal worship by the media in the middle of the table.

The risks for Jordan the Gambler are great indeed, which I am sure only motivates him more. He risks injury, embarrassment, disrespect, losing and scorn from people who say this comeback is only about his narcissistic need for the spotlight. The chance to be GM of the Wizards, and perhaps slowly turn this franchise around, was a petty wager for Jordan. A spin of the nickel slots, when he had grown accustomed to the high dollar baccarat tables. No wonder he got bored.

This Jordan comeback is a full fledged multi-component parlay. Nobody thinks he can hit it, but the payout would be immense. In short, MJ must stay healthy, hang with the young dogs, find some magic, elevate his teammates, tutor a high schooler and keep Doug Collins from an emotional meltdown. Even with all that, a realistic payout would be simply a playoff berth, and a foray into the second round.

Championship? Number seven? Ha! Right?

Nobody has even dared to suggest that the Wiz and MJ will be cutting down the nets anytime soon, and Jordan himself has wisely set the bar on expectations very low. But I do find it funny that the opinion makers are quick to lay out in gory detail the "worst case" scenario for Mike. But they have been timid to even sketch out the "best case" scenario.


Hell, I can paint that picture. Jordan returns this year, in near vintage form and averages 28 per game. The MCI center rocks every night, and close games that used to get routinely flushed in the 4th quarter are converted to wins. Doug Collins brings competence and leadership, while Kwame Brown fulfills the promise of being the "next Kevin Garnett" and surprises the NBA with quickness and nastiness to the tune of 15 and 8 a night. Rip Hamilton finally emerges as an all around player and even learns to play some defense. Courtney Alexander looks even better than last season while getting open looks opposite Jordan, and becomes ideal trade bait to help balance the roster at other positions. Wizards win 45 games, make the second round of the East and put a fierce scare into Philadelphia before succumbing. In the off-season, the Wizards suddenly lofty cap space is a most enticing lure for a solid veteran (not superstar) and before you realize it, you've got a contender. Jordan, energized and looking good (as good as say Karl Malone) at the age of almost 40, comes into 2002 with the team to beat in the East.

People laugh at such a "best case scenario" almost on instinct alone. Cynicism is the coin of the realm in sports media today, and proclaiming disaster makes a pundit feel somehow above the unbridled silliness of ignorant fans. Predicting success is a much more lonely path, since being wrong invites mockery at your seemingly naïve optimism.

They said a scoring champ can't win a title. Wrong. They said after Jordan's comeback from baseball that his legs wouldn't be the same. Wrong. They said Dennis Rodman would be a destructive, distracting force. Wrong. They said the Bulls were out of gas in 1998 against Utah, when Jordan went steal, jumper, pose, history. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Jordan the Gambler has bought back in to the high stakes table. I know that I'm down for the dollar and ready for the ride.

Steve Czaban Special to

Steve is a native Washingtonian and has worked in sports talk radio for the last 11 years. He worked at WTEM in 1993 anchoring Team Tickers before he took a full time job with national radio network One-on-One Sports.

A graduate of UC Santa Barbara, Steve has worked for WFNZ in Charlotte where his afternoon show was named "Best Radio Show." Steve continues to serve as a sports personality for WLZR in Milwaukee and does fill-in hosting for Fox Sports Radio.