Suns News

Jud on Jordan

By Dustin Krugel
Posted: Sept. 20, 2001

Buechler won three championships during his days in a Bulls uniform. (NBA Photos)
If Michael Jordan returns to the NBA as has been speculated all summer, former teammate Jud Buechler knows what's in store for Richard Hamilton and Kwame Brown and the rest of his Wizards' teammates -- a lot of oohing and aahing.

Buechler, now a member of the Suns, remembers how star struck he and some of his teammates were after the basketball legend turned minor league baseball player announced his first return to the sport in March 1995 after sitting out all of the 1993-94 season and most of '94-95.

"I'll never forget the first practice. I was on his team (during a scrimmage) and he passed it to me on the wing and I hit a jumper. I almost ran out of the building and said, 'My career is over,'" he laughs. "It was the ultimate experience. He ran back and gave me a high-five and I was like, 'Oh, my gosh!' There was that awe period that the team had to get over because we would just end up standing around and watching him play. That took a couple of weeks and then we realized he is a teammate and he is human, I guess."

Jordan, who is currently serving as the Wizards' President of Basketball Operations, was expected to announce his comeback at a press conference on Thursday, but those plans were derailed in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington D.C. In anticipation of his return, team ticket sales have surged. Even the NBA's own web site administrators accidentally activated Jordan as a member of the Wizards, listing him on the Wizards' homepage briefly Monday, tucked alphabetically between Popeye Jones and Christian Laettner.

In case you were wondering, the Wizards are scheduled to visit the America West Arena on Feb. 15.

"I am anxiously waiting for his announcement just like everybody else," said Buechler, who was acquired this offseason from the Pistons along with forward John Wallace for veteran Cliff Robinson. "From what I hear, he's in great shape and playing as well as he has in the past maybe. He's put in a lot of hard work this summer, so I'm anticipating because he's put in all that hard work that he will be playing."

Buechler spent four very successful seasons in Chicago (1994-98), including the last three and a half as a teammate of Jordan and loved every single minute of it. The Bulls averaged over 62 wins during that span and won three consecutive championships (1996-98). Buechler emerged as a fan favorite and a valuable contributor on the Bulls' second unit with his all-out hustle and timely outside shooting.

Buechler plays some aggressive defense on Penny Hardaway during informal workouts. (Jeramie McPeek/Suns Photos)
"Those years in Chicago will probably go down as the glory years of my career so I can't say enough about him," said Buechler, who has not crossed paths with Jordan since the Bulls '98 title run. "I have three championship rings and he's heavily responsible for those."

A long and prosperous career in the NBA once didn't seem too likely for Buechler after he was selected in the second round of the 1990 NBA Draft. His hoop dreams were in serious jeopardy after he was given his walking papers by two different teams shortly after the start of the 1991-92 season, yet Buechler managed to stick. Not because of his overwhelming athletic prowess. Instead he dedicated himself to improving his game every day. But even the 11-year veteran came away amazed with Jordan's tireless work ethic.

"I considered myself a hard worker when I got to Chicago," he said, "but after watching a guy like Michael Jordan work that hard and show up early and stay late day in and day out, it makes you think, 'Man, what should I be doing as a player?' He's the ultimate professional."

At an age when most basketball players are more concerned about their 401k contributions than making a second comeback, Jordan will attempt to disprove his doubters. Those that question why the 38-year-old would want to return to the game and risk not living up to the legendary status he created for himself by winning six championships and scoring over 29,277 points, or why he would want to risk injury?

"Who are we or any of us to say, 'Don't come back because something negative is going to happen,'" Buechler said. "I don't believe that's going to happen. It's his career and he can do anything he wants.

"I think you are going to see a very similar Michael to what you saw the last couple of years of the Bulls run. This guy is still physically in great shape. He still has the physical tools. He probably can't elevate like he did in the late '80s, but he is so mentally tough that he will find a way to break guys down. Mentally he is extremely smart. He also has that little fade-away jumper."

But will Jordan's return make a significant difference in the standings for the win-deprived Wizards, who haven't enjoyed a 50-win season since President Jimmy Carter was in the oval office and have made just one lone playoff appearance in the last 14 years?

"It's going to be tough. There is no Dennis Rodman. There is no Scottie Pippen or the other guys like Toni Kukoc, guys that fit into the triangle offensive system in Chicago," Buechler said. "But I don't put anything past Michael. The years I spent with Michael, the guy amazed me every single night. When he puts his mind to something, he can get it done. Whether they can win a championship or not, that could be a couple of years away, but they are going to be extremely competitive."