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Sunday, August 26, 2001
Updated: August 28, 3:27 PM ET
Barkley: 'Nothing positive' about a Jordan comeback

By Andy Katz
ESPN.com

CARY, N.C. -- Charles Barkley told ESPN.com on Sunday he is against Michael Jordan coming back to the NBA, but expects his close friend to return to the league with the Washington Wizards for the upcoming season.

"I think he's going to play," Barkley said. "I'd be really surprised if he doesn't come back at this point, but I don't want him to."

Michael Jordan Return-O-Meter

Barkley, speaking candidly after finishing a round of golf at the Jimmy V Celebrity Golf Classic at the Prestonwood Country Club in suburban Raleigh, said Jordan has nothing to gain by ending his second retirement and returning to the game for the first time in three years.

"It's an awkward situation for me because he's my friend and my brother, but I don't want him to do it," Barkley said. "I don't want the press to have the right to criticize him. I don't want them to have that luxury. They'll expect him to play like Michael Jordan and he can't do that.

"He's the greatest basketball player who ever lived and he can't compete against that," Barkley said. "There's nothing positive for him to gain by coming back."

Barkley said he witnessed Jordan during practices earlier in the summer in Chicago, and said he was competitive but not dominating. Jordan, who is going through a second personal mini-camp in Chicago after breaking his ribs in June, is competing against present NBA players in pickup games. Jordan also played hours of pickup ball at his adult fantasy camp in Las Vegas and his Nike Flight School camp with elite college players in Santa Barbara, Calif. But the broken ribs forced him to take some considerable time off in the middle of the summer.

"If he comes back and just plays well, then that's not good enough," Barkley said. "I don't understand how this helps him."

Barkley said he believes the reason Jordan wants to come back is to do something similar to Pittsburgh Penguins owner and player Mario Lemieux, who returned to the NHL last season to revive a struggling franchise.

"A lot of people think Michael wants to come back because of his ego and other stuff, but he wants to get his franchise out of dire straits," Barkley said of the Wizards' president of basketball operations. "He's seeing his team lose and he's taking a lot of unfair criticism because people complain he's never in the office. When I was in the NBA, I never saw the GM or the president and I never heard of where they were being a big deal."

But Barkley said Jordan will end up being constantly measured against his storied past.

"He's chasing his own ghosts," Barkley said. "Every athlete's dream is the way he ended it. He hit the last shot (in the 1998 NBA Finals over Utah). He has had a storybook life as an athlete. When you look at all the athletes who ever lived, he's one of the few guys who hit the shot in college to win a championship (at North Carolina in 1982), won two gold medals and won six NBA championships. There is less than a handful of athletes all-time that had that type of storybook career and we've got to make sure nothing dampens that."

Barkley is concerned that the 38-year-old Jordan might not be physically fit to come back. He said he witnessed Jordan breaking his ribs in a pickup game.

"It wasn't a rough tactic when he got hurt, and it was something 10 years ago that wouldn't have affected him," Barkley said. "He made a move, and got hit in the ribs. He didn't get hammered going to the basket the way Allen Iverson does in games."

Jordan is also battling tendinitis, which Barkley said becomes even more nagging and harder to overcome with age.

"My biggest concern is him getting hurt," Barkley said.

If Jordan returns, he will automatically add wins for the rebuilding Wizards. But Barkley said a Jordan return would stunt the growth of the franchise, especially after drafting young with No. 1 pick Kwame Brown out of Glynn Academy in Georgia. Barkley said a Jordan return would bloat the Wizards' record and prevent them from building through the draft because their draft pick would be worse.

"Realistically, he can't play more than two more years," Barkley said. "It might be good in the short term, but it wouldn't be in the long term."

Barkley said Jordan called him about returning to the NBA over a year ago, but the story got out when Sports Illustrated's Rick Reilly wrote that Jordan was seriously considering a return.

"We had been working on a game plan for a long time, but it got screwed up by Rick Reilly," said Barkley, who was upset when the story surfaced. "We talked about it way before everyone else knew it, way before."

Barkley considered returning himself and said Jordan was the only person who could get him out of retirement.

"And if I could feel a lot better about my body, I would do it," Barkley said. "But I don't feel confident about it right now. I would do anything for him, but my body won't hold up for 82 games."

Jordan has repeatedly said he hasn't made up his mind on a return, but would likely do so sometime in September before training camp starts.

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.