Michael Jordan may be the most famous basketball player of all time, rivaled only by maybe LeBron James. As we saw in The Last Dance, Jordan’s fame during his Bulls career was never higher than during the 1997-98 season.
Fans thought it would be his last season, he was still playing at an NBA level, and the Bulls were going for their second three-peat in an eight-year span. Jordan couldn’t get any more famous than that season right?
If you listen to former Wizards reporter Steve Wyche on the latest episode of the Wizards Talk podcast, he claims he was even bigger when he came out of retirement a second time to play for the Wizards.
“By the time MJ got to D.C., he was everything we saw in The Last Dance,” Wyche said. “It is indescribable to try to tell you how big of a celebrity he is.
“We saw the scenes [in The Last Dance] how Michael had to eat room service in his room every day because he just couldn’t go out,” he said. “It was worse in DC because he’s joining a franchise that had been a doormat of the NBA for so long, had nothing to do with the Chicago Bulls and he was coming in as an executive.”
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Even when Jordan was an executive, the Wizards were playing in front of packed arenas. Wyche mentioned how President Bill Clinton was seated in a box with Jordan at the first game Washington played under his leadership.
It makes sense if you think about it. Following Jordan’s retirement in 1998, the next three years would be dominated by the Lakers and Spurs. With the Eastern Conference struggling to contend with the powerhouse teams out west, Jordan injected life into Washington and the rest of the east coast despite not making it to the playoffs in either year as a Wizard.
“It was just a spectacular time,” Wyche said. “I can’t stress the magnitude of celebrity that Michael Jordan is. It is like nothing I’ve ever experienced in any sport I’ve covered or anything I’ve ever dealt with.”
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Michael Jordan’s celebrity in D.C. was bigger than when he played for the Bulls originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington