By Chris Murray
For the Philadelphia Sunday Sun
ABOVE PHOTO: New Charlotte Bobcats majority owner Michael Jordan, left, smiles as former Bobcats majority owner Robert L. Johnson speaks during a news conference on Thursday, March 18, 2010 in Charlotte, NC . Jordan is the first former player to own an NBA team, and the second black majority owner. Johnson was the first.
(AP Photo/Jason E. Miczek)
When Michael Jordan took over as the majority owner of the Charlotte Bobcats, he became the first athlete to rise from being a player on the plantation of the basketball court to the big house of the owner’s box.
After buying out Robert Johnson for $275 million, Jordan has the unenviable task of turning the Bobcats into a winning franchise while trying to win back disillusioned fans who are still angry about the departure of the Hornets to New Orleans.
The question for the 47-year-old Hall-of-Famer is whether he can avoid that old adage that says the great athletes don’t make great coaches or front office executives. In other words, can Jordan avoid being former Boston Red Sox great Ted Williams, who had a lackluster career as a manager of the Washington Senators?
Or will Jordan be a successful executive along the lines of Jerry West, Joe Dumars and Danny Ainge who were responsible for building teams that won the NBA title.
Jordan’s drive and determination helped lead the Chicago Bulls to six NBA titles during the 1990s and made him even richer off the court through his commercial endorsements. If he can somehow bottle his on- the-court work ethic and his media savvy into a succesful franchise, the Bobcats will be a perrenial contender for the NBA Finals.
If there is one intangible in his favor, it is that Jordan wants to prove that he can take a franchise to the promised land after his first stint as an NBA exec. When he was the president of the Washington Wizards, from 1999 to to 2003, he was by all accounts a failure. During that time, the Wizards failed to make the playoffs even after he left the executive suite to become a player again during his last two years in Washington.
In 2003, he was unceremoniously fired by the late Abe Pollin who felt that Jordan had caused dissension within the Wizards franchise. Indeed, Jordan’s detractors in Washington point to some of the bad moves that happened under his watch such as first-round draft pick and now bust Kwame Brown. He also brought in Leonard Hamilton, a collegiate coach who had no NBA experience and finished his one-year stint as the Wizard’s head coach with a dismal 19-63 record.
And then there were the various reports citing unamed sources within the organization that questioned Jordan’s work ethic as an executive and that he was at odds with team president Susan O’Malley. There was also reports that Jordan was harsh in criticizing the players he brought in, especially Brown. All of those things apparently led to Jordan’s ultimate downfall in Washington.
Even with all the negative things that reportedly happened under the Jordan’s watch in Washington, the Wizards went from making $81 million in 2000-2001 to $99 million in 2001-2002 and $98 million in 2002-2003. That revenue came as a result of Jordan playing for the Wizards.
And now as the owner of the Bobcats, Jordan has to not only win but make the team profitable.
One thing that Jordan is doing right now is surrounding himself with good people. He brought in the well-traveled head coach Larry Brown before he became the majority owner. The Bobcats are in the hunt for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
In the front office, Jordan has hired Rod Higgins, who worked with him in Washington and team president Fred Whitfield. Brown, who led the Sixers to the 2001 NBA Finals, recently told the Charlotte Observer that he enjoys working with Jordan.
“He’s allowed me to do my job, and I know he cares,” Brown said. “So I think it’s real important that we have closure on this thing and it’s even more important to know that he’s the head of the Bobcats.”
Jordan also brought in shooting guard Stephen Jackson in a trade with the Golden State Warriors. So far, Jackson is averaging 21 points per game.
But Jordan has to make this franchise successful, not only as a winning product on the court; but he also has to embrace the Charlotte community in a way that former Bob Johnson did not. Additionally, he can’t run the franchise from Chicago. It’s imperative that Jordan immerse himself into the Charlotte community and restore the good faith that the city once had in the Hornets, who once sold out the arena on a regular basis.
Jordan has to use the strength of his name and his marketing skills to build the Bobcats into a franchise that has the love and the respect of the community. But he also has to negotiate all the complexities of the NBA salary cap and luxury tax.
Throughout his time as a player from high school to the pros, Jordan always shined in flying colors when he’s had something to prove. No one could stop him when he had that level of motivation. If he can channel that as an owner, the Bobcats will be a force to reckon with for years to come.