Photo: Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images
In the past, only the truly exceptional were considered “Michael Jordan” in their respective arena: acting (Viola Davis), fibbing (George Santos), the Democratic Party (Barack Obama). “You know what you’re talking about,” Obama said before presenting the Chicago Bulls legend with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, “because Michael Jordan is the Michael Jordan of greatness.” And now he’s poised to win another title: the Michael Jordan among the dealmakers.
News broke last week that the six-time NBA champion was in serious talks on the sale of part of its majority stake in the Charlotte Hornets. This comes four years after he sold part of the franchise to a group led by venture capitalist Gabe Plotkin — according to some, the Michael Jordan of the short sale. It’s unclear if Jordan is looking to make investments or if he wants to cash out of the league entirely. In the latter case, his take would be an 80 percent slice of a pie worth more than $1 billion. In terms of investment, it’s nothing but net.
But it’s not just the money that makes this a big deal. For nearly two decades, the Chicago Bulls’ greatness was the Michael Jordan among front-office executives, notable for being the only black-majority team owner in America’s four major sports leagues. A divestment may be better off, but a larger movement towards diversity, inclusion and fair play will end up being worse off.
All of which means: This isn’t a case of one bored rich guy selling to another who’s never had the thrill of victory. This applies to higher stakes. There’s so much to think about – from what it means for North Carolina’s most prominent professional franchise to lose your favorite son as a steward, to whether the Hornets have much more room to grow while they’re in the eighth smallest media market in the world NBA stuck.
Related: Why are there so few black team owners in US professional sports?
However, Fox Sports’ Colin Cowherd could only match the lowest hanging fruit – the team’s record for tallest player to ever lace it. (Note: Born and raised here in Chicago.)
“He tried baseball, he failed,” Cowherd raged last week. “He tried possession, he was terrible. He tried Wizards, it bombed. Everyone understands that, take Scottie Pippen and Phil Jackson, this whole Michael Jordan mythology is exactly that.” And that’s coming from someone who professes respect for Jordan’s unique air. Imagine what MJ’s true haters must be thinking.
In her defense, there’s certainly no arguing with the scoreboard. Since Jordan bought a stake in the Hornets in 2006, Charlotte has only had a winning record four times in 17 tries. That’s true of this season as well, as Charlotte races down in hopes of victory the Victor Wembanyama Sweepstakes.
Worse, the best player of his generation has shown a faint eye for talent — he’s tried to draft shaggy Gonzaga star Adam Morrison, bought a new deal for underperforming center Emeka Okafor, tag after tag into the air busted and never met a coach or general manager anywhere near as good as the odd pair he had in Chicago.
The close friendship between Jordan and Charles Barkley was destroyed when the TNT analyst castigated Jordan for isolating with yes-men. “He called me and the last thing I heard was, ‘Motherfucker, fuck you. You should be my boy,'” Barkley recalled a new guest appearance on the All the Smoke podcast. “I said, ‘Man, I have to do my job.’ We haven’t spoken to each other since that night.”
Given Jordan’s reputation as a series competitor with a knack for turning small things, real and imagined, into fuel for conquest, one might think the criticism—hardly reserved for Barkley—would have catapulted the Hornets into thin air. Instead, they barely got off the ground.
But what about Jordan’s other achievements in Charlotte? Callback: When he bought into the team in 2006, their name was Charlotte bobcats – a vanity game by previous owner Bob Johnson, the BET co-founder who revived basketball in Queen City after the original Hornets relocated to New Orleans in 2002. It was Jordan who restored the team’s brand and reclaimed its legacy from the New Orleans Pelicans, effectively undoing what had been a messy divorce from the city.
Jordan called the unbranding “a historic day” — and he wasn’t joking. Ask a Carolina Tire Mom: The grinning Hornets logo — and the visions of Larry Johnson hurtling through the air, of Alonzo Mourning cutting his way through paint, and of Muggsy Bogues confuses the defense from the dribble – doesn’t belong anywhere else.
Those yes men? Quite a few were black and women, far more than were found in other front offices when Jordan took over. Those misses in court? Undoubtedly, Jordan’s touch was muted by his distance from the game. But it’s hard to slam the guy for not trying when he hired Larry Brown, bringing back all-time winning leader Paul Silas, and San Antonio assistant James Borrego as the NBA’s first Latino head coach made. Additionally, there’s no doubt that Jordan’s Hornets have seen a turnaround since signing former Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak, who has built a promising young roster around Miles Bridges and LaMelo Ball.
This sale? Isn’t that the point of investing? make Money? As Jordan consolidated his Purchased the Charlotte franchise for $275 million in 2010It seemed he had more money than brains – but only just. At the time, Forbes valued Jordan at $550 million, a hoard that included all the money he’d made from Nike – a company an upcoming feature film reminds us of this, which went nowhere before he hit the first pair of airs. The failed comeback with the Wizards that Cowherd was referring to began with Jordan being invited on board as a part owner of that team and the NHL’s Capitals, which bolstered his portfolio.
More precisely: Jordan got on early. At a time when player salaries were relatively modest and most owners had made their ransoms in real estate, he divided the wealth he had amassed on the pitch into a fair ownership share. He bridged the gap between the owners and the players, helping the former appreciate the latter’s reasons for quitting the job during the 2020 playoffs afterwards the police shooting of Jacob Blake.
In the age of billionaire venture capitalists and tech moguls, it’s hard to imagine that LeBron James or any other high-earning NBA star could pull off such a spectacular upward trend. Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer changed NBA math forever with his $2 billion acquisition of the LA Clippers.
And while it’s true that they bought a semi-decent team in a top media market, it’s also been almost a decade. Since then, the Houston Rockets have sold for $2.2 billion, the Brooklyn Nets for $3.2 billion, and the Phoenix Suns just for a record $4 billion. Given those prices and the NBA’s global expansion, the Hornets’ true value could be much higher than the $1.6 billion thrown around
There are some who will always see Jordan as a failure for anything he does outside of the Bulls, eh he plays baseball or works as a Nascar owner. (And with Jordan seemingly attempting to retire from the NBA so soon after entering stock car racing, it’s hard not to be reminded of Junior Johnson’s famous quote about making a small fortune in motorsport: ” Start with a big one. “)
But the fact is, even Jordan’s disappointing tenure as Hornets owner is an overwhelming achievement. By standing aside for so long, he gave other athletes-turned-leaders another reason to be like Mike. It’s just a shame that he wants to sell and not James Dolan from New York. Jordan as the final opponent has become an integral part of the NBA. Whoever follows him will follow in big footsteps. The Michael Jordan of shoe fillers, without a doubt