Jordan aims to make Bobcats 'winning program'
A relaxed Michael Jordan broke into a wide smile as he sat at his desk Thursday night amid his whirlwind week of realizing a longtime goal of becoming an NBA owner.
Soon, though, that steely resolve that defined his superstar playing career peeked through as he fielded a question about his commitment to turn the Charlotte Bobcats from a money-losing, non-playoff team into a winner in both areas.
"It's motivating," the six-time NBA champion said of the naysayers who joke he'll be more worried about tee times than season ticket renewals. "I've never been asked to be out at the forefront of an organization. I never had the financial commitment to do that. Now I have. Now I'm involved. How can I not, when I'm owning 80 percent of the basketball team, not put my face on the organization?"
Jordan's $275 million purchase of the club from Bob Johnson was approved by the rest of the league's owners on Wednesday. The North Carolina native spent his first full day on the job insisting he's ready to "dive in with my sleeves rolled up" to turn around the six-year-old franchise, while downplaying the significance of becoming the first former player to own an NBA team.
"I'm not wearing that on my sleeve," he said. "For me, everybody just wants to see us win. Doesn't matter if it's me. Doesn't matter if it's Bob. Doesn't matter if it's anybody else. I'm happy to be in this position and given this opportunity by Bob.
"But that part of being the first athlete to control his own team is secondary in terms of me trying to provide a winning program here in Charlotte."
A few hundred season ticket holders watched Johnson hand the team to Jordan in an event at Time Warner Cable Arena on Thursday night. Johnson, the first black majority owner of a major professional sports team, lost tens of millions of dollars annually as the city struggled to warm to the expansion team that replaced the New Orleans-bound Hornets.
"I think he'll do absolutely great," Johnson said. "I think you will see a change in him in that he now knows he's on point. He is the face of Charlotte. He knows that this town asks a lot of its owners. And to me, emotionally, psychologically, economically he's prepared for that task.
"When I talked to him I said, 'One of the things you've got to do here is you've got to be willing to touch and be touched.' And I'm sure he'll do that."
Jordan didn't in his role the past four years as a minority investor with the final say on basketball decisions. Jordan was rarely seen at games or practices and was criticized for a couple of early decisions: drafting the disappointing Adam Morrison No. 3 overall in the 2006 draft, and hiring the inexperienced Sam Vincent as coach.
Since then, Jordan has been on a roll with his moves. After firing Vincent after just one season, Jordan hired Hall of Famer Larry Brown. The team has made numerous trades, including acquiring Stephen Jackson in November, that's helped propel the Bobcats (35-32) to the verge of their first playoff berth.
"You guys got to admit on nights where we play well and we can beat the Lakers, we can beat Cleveland on the road, we can beat Orlando on the road, man, the imagination runs wild," Jordan said. "With that said, I'd like to see where this imagination takes us."
But the 47-year-old Jordan has several obstacles. He's assuming about $150 million in debt and the club is expected to lose about $30 million this season. Charlotte ranks 22nd out of 30 teams in attendance, has poor television reach and sluggish sponsorship sales.
There's even an issue with the Bobcats name. While Johnson denies it, the impression by many is he named the club after himself. There has been discussion about changing the nickname, a process that could cost up to $10 million and take a couple of years.
"If I get the understanding from the community, from the public, that we need it and it signifies a change, yeah, I will do that," Jordan said.
And the 69-year-old Brown, in his record ninth NBA head coaching job, is always a threat to leave. While he has two years left on his contract, there have been reports linking him to jobs with the Los Angeles Clippers and Philadelphia 76ers. Brown's wife, Shelly, lives in Philadelphia with their kids.
"I don't want Larry to leave, but I cannot control and totally understand his relationship in terms of what Shelly feels in terms of a husband-wife scenario and what's best suited for their family," Jordan said. "Now I'll do whatever I can to keep him here and I want him here, but for family reasons, or Shelly's reasons, he feels like he needs to do something else, what else can I do?"
Jordan indicated he doesn't plan to get into luxury tax territory with payroll "until we go deep" in the playoffs. He stressed that he wanted Charlotte to "experience what it's like to win" and is confident he can create another milestone by doing that as an owner.
"I've dealt with criticism my whole career," he said, "and each and every time it's been a motivating factor for me."