He was 99.9 percent sure. Ninety-nine point nine percent positive that his NBA career was over.

But that .1 percent – it was always there, leaving the door open. Then the story broke that the man (Michael Jordan) was working out twice a day, trying to get in game shape. Then came word that his good buddy Charles Barkley has started dropping weight in hopes of a comeback. Next, M.J. hired his former coach, Doug Collins, to run the team he would return to. And finally, Jordan said he is only 85 to 88 percent sure that he won’t come back.

For the media, this was almost too much, and so the bombardment of questions mounted. A return from His Airness (and Sir Charles in the mix)? Could he really be serious about another return from retirement? M.J. in the league again? It was almost too good to be true.

Of course, the NBA would love nothing more, except getting Mark Cuban on decaf. One final fling from the greatest player in the history of the game. Throw in another sure-fire Hall of Famer in Barkley – can you imagine the hoopla?

But lost in the excitement of Jordan’s possible return is the question of whether he should return at all. He is 38 and was drafted way back in 1984. To put that in perspective, realize that he was playing in the NBA before Patrick Ewing, and look how old and decrepit Ewing is. Sure, Jordan was away from the game for a couple of years, but he has played a lot of basketball in his day.

So the question is: At his age, could Jordan capture his magic of old and dominate the NBA? No one can answer that but Michael, but it does seem doubtful that he could return and lead the Wizards to the title. There is just too much young talent in the league today. A Jordan return would mean going up against players nearly half his age, and almost certainly more athletic.

To see what I mean, take a look at the playoffs this weekend. Philly’s Allen Iverson, the Answer, drops 54 on the Raptors. Vince Carter comes right back the next game and sets the NBA record with eight three-pointers in a single half en route to fifty points. Not to be outdone, Kobe scorches the Kings for 48 and 16 boards on Sunday.

These are the players that Jordan will have to go up against. Sure, M.J. has the experience and knowledge of the game on his side, but that will carry him only so far. Eventually youth and talent start to take over. And that’s where Jordan would be at a huge disadvantage.

What if Iverson were to cross him over and drop a “J” on his head? What if Vince blew past him for a dunk? What if Kobe, smug grin and all, smoked him for 40?

What if Jordan couldn’t capture the magic of old and remain the best player in the NBA?

That is the question I can’t get out of my head. I can’t shake the terrible image of an old, defeated

Jordan, limping off the court, whipped by one of those young guns.

So, while I have no doubt that M.J. could come back, average 24 points a game and lift Washington into the playoffs, it’s something I just don’t want to see. I don’t want to see a Jordan that is mortal, who misses the game winning shot – a Jordan that can’t do the impossible.

I want my final memory of His Airness to be that perfect crescent-shaped jumper against Utah to win the NBA title.

The crossover. The step-back. The bust.

MJ’s hand suspended in the air for that one final second, so fans everywhere could savor, for one last time, the greatest player ever to walk to face of the earth.