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Jordan's Return Raises Hopes

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Michael Jordan's announcement Tuesday that he will return to play pro basketball this season with the Washington Wizards was met with calm jubilation by NBC Sports Chairman Dick Ebersol.

"We're excited that Michael is returning," Ebersol said. "It will be fun to watch the greatest player ever match up against the NBA's new generation of stars."

Ebersol is doubtless hoping that Jordan will reinvigorate NBC's National Basketball Association coverage, which has drawn steadily dwindling audiences since Jordan retired after the 1998 season.

Meanwhile, the league is negotiating to replace TV contracts that expire at the end of this season. If Jordan plays out his two-year contract and rekindles viewer interest, the NBA could be looking at rights deals more lucrative than its current terms: $350 million a year from NBC, $178 million from TBS and TNT on cable.

There was talk that new terms would yield dollars proportional to pro basketball's shrinking ratings, but Jordan could alter things -- even if only for two years of what are likely to be a longer contracts.

Ebersol said any possible TV scheduling changes will be considered and discussed with the NBA in the next week to 10 days.

Expect changes. The Wizards last season won only 19 games and were not expected to be seen much, of at all, on NBC this season -- until Jordan.

The season opens Oct. 30, when the Wizards play the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden in a game likely to be seen on TBS/TNT, owner of weeknight rights during the regular season.

Jordan, a five-time league MVP, said he will donate his first season's salary to relief agencies working to aid families of the victims of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

In order to comply with NBA regulations, he had to sell his stake in the Wizards in order to play.