His Airness will be grounded in return

He averaged 41 points as he buried the Phoenix Suns in the 1993 NBA Finals — and then claimed baseball was his true love.

He discarded Bryon Russell and the Utah Jazz with a surreptitious left-hand nudge in the1996 Finals — and then said he was “99.9 percent certain” he would never play again.

I hope Michael Jordan uses better judgement at the casino than he does during his retirement press conferences, because as Kool Keith said, “The Mack is back.”

Tuesday, His Airness announced that he will return to professional hardwood courts and attempt to re-write — yet again — the final chapter to his improbable and mythic tale.

Oh, the hubris! Doesn’t he know? Basketball gods grant just one storybook ending per hall of fame career.

And Jordan’s already got two.

The man is testing his fate — and I have a strong intuition that by the time rendition number three has come and gone, MJ is going to have fallen far and fast from the height to which he ascended three years ago.

“I’m convinced we have the foundation on which to build a playoff-contention team,” said Jordan at his coming back party. Was he serious? This is a man who was accused of making friends with opponents to gain a competitive edge. He doesn’t want a mere playoff berth — he wants a seventh ring.

Fat chance. No. 23 is now 38 years old. He’s heavier, slower and more fragile — he broke two ribs in an NBA summer league game.

But Jordan’s age isn’t the sole reason that he’ll be more Ground and less Air these next two seasons.

Washington has had exactly two winning records since the end of the Reagan administration and only one playoff appearance in the last 14 years. Last June the Jordan-managed Wizards weren’t vying for anything but the best tee time at their local country clubs.

And this year, even with Mr. Sportsman of the Century, Washington is more likely to languish in the dregs of the Atlantic Division than hoist the Lawrence O’Brien Trophy.

Jordan isn’t surrounded by anywhere near the amount of talent that supported him in Chicago. Sure, Washington got rid of headaches Juwan Howard and Mitch Richmond, but what’s left won’t be much of an improvement.

The Wizards’ front line includes Jahidi White — whose name ties up more defenders than his game does — and Christian Laettner — who went out of style about the same time as that bowl haircut he had at Duke.

And the Wizards’ second-best player, Richard Hamilton, is merely a poor man’s Scottie Pippen — big nose and all.

So while Jordan might be “one of the top 10 players in the league,” as Washington head coach Doug Collins predicts he will be, he’s going to have his hands full against the throngs of next generation NBAers who are licking their chops at the thought of humiliating the once-mighty King of Dunk. Kobe, Vince and The Answer will have little trouble out-running this outdated All-Star.

Jordan and the Bulls used to feign mortality to lull his opponents into complacency. Now, Jordan and the Wizards are lulling their fans into a false sense of hope. They’ll win 38 games, tops — and they won’t ever see a Jordanesque turn-around jumper in the playoffs.

No, no. MJ’s center will not hold during this — his third coming.

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