Last March when Michael Jordan bought the Charlotte Bobcats, making him the first former NBA player to own an NBA franchise, there was a great deal of excitement from both the media and from the fans. Mark Cuban has shown us that the right owner can truly change the entire culture of a franchise, and this is the type of change people expected from Jordan in Charlotte. However, about a year and a half into his ownership it is time for some concern, because so far he has been way over his head managing a franchise.
Jordan may have seemed like he was primed to be a great owner for two main reasons. He has extensive financial resources: Forbes estimates, as of January 2010, that his net worth is about $550 million, putting him somewhere in the top 10-15 range as far as richest NBA owners goes. Secondly, he was one of the greatest players to ever set foot on a NBA court so he has a great deal of basketball knowledge.
Both of those statements are true. However, neither wealth nor basketball knowledge have anything to do with running an NBA franchise.
Take the net worth of owners Jerry Buss (LA Lakers), Wyc Grousbeck (Celtics), and Peter Holt (Spurs), these guys own the three most successful franchises in the NBA for the last decade and are combined still worth less than about 8-10 other owners in the NBA. An owner's net worth has no correlation to his franchise's success in the NBA despite a belief to the contrary. This isn't baseball, there is a salary cap for this very reason. *I'll get back to variation due to the soft-cap in a second.*
As far as being a great player goes: so what? Sure he can offer insight into the game to his players and all that, but he can do that from assistant coaches seat. Running a business as large as an NBA franchise requires experience in the business field, and almost every single other owner has a lifetime background in business. Jordan has a lifetime background in playing games with an inflatable ball. Ownership is not something you have to apply for like a regular job, but if it was I'm confident that Jordan wouldn't get hired for it with that resume.
The notion that money can buy success in the NBA despite the fact there is a salary cap is because the soft-cap teams can choose to spend more than other teams and then pay a luxury tax. Assertiveness with money can make you a better team, but even aggressive owners have to do use the soft cap intelligently.
Take the Mavericks' use of the soft cap, which allowed them to retain a solid core of above-average players to surround Nowitzki—unlike the Magic, which spent $25 million on Rashard Lewis and don't have any money left to build the rest of a solid team around Dwight Howard.
Talking about intelligent spending then goes back to talking about Jordan's experience, er, inexperience with money. He is one of the few, if not the only, NBA owner(s) who didn't make his money through investing and industry and therefore one of the few/only owner(s) who does not have a history of wisely spending money. In fact, Jordan was a compulsive gambler at one point in his career who is reported to have lost over $1.25 million on golfing bets alone. He has a history of being terrible with handling his own money, and now he has thrust himself into a position where he is handling a $275-million sports franchise. See why this situation looks a little bleak...
While he may or may not be a compulsive gambler anymore, he certainly seems to be compulsive still. The culmination of his negative compulsiveness was on display at last night's draft with the trade of Stephen Jackson which ultimately inspired me to produce this post. Flashback to the '09-'10 season: the Bobcats go 44-38 (.537) earning them the No. 7 seed in the East and their first winning season in franchise history as well as their first trip to the playoffs in franchise history. They did get swept in the playoffs by Orlando, but with 15 games left in the season was about the time Jordan was approved for ownership of the team. Going into the '10-'11 season things were looking up: best season in franchise history, core of the roster returning, Larry Brown on the sideline, and the great MJ at the helm.
Enter last season, after a rocky 9-19 start Larry Brown "resigned", though it should be noted it was that or be fired and the team did have the decency to let him leave with some pride. Having class doesn't make it the right move though, Larry Brown is one of the greatest coaches in basketball history, how many other coaches in any sport have won a coach of the year and championship at both the college and professional level? Either way, Jordan got rid of him, not even a third of the way through the season. He did make a good hire in replacement Paul Silas, making Jordan no longer the least qualified person for their job in the Bobcats organization.
The team is probably not in apocalypse mode yet—all they did was lose a Hall of Fame coach— but they still have the same core of players that took them to the playoffs the year before. Well, until the trade deadline approached, then they got rid of one of their two best players in Gerald Wallace, for three guys who aren't starters, two first-round draft picks and cash considerations. They probably could have gotten more for a guy like Wallace and the move comes off a little desperate, but it's not worth blowing up over. They would go on to finish the season at 34-48 (.415).
All hope still wasn't lost until the last night's draft.
The Bobcats gave away the best player left on their roster in Stephen Jackson as well as Shaun Livingston to get Bismack Biyombo, Kemba Walker, Corey Maggette and $2 million. So the Bobcats lose their best player they have left and get a "project player" who is still at a couple years away from making an impact and an severely-undersized guy who doesn't have the skill set of either an NBA PG or SG.
At this point, Jordan and his Bobcats have given away both of their two best players and chased out a Hall-of-Fame head coach, not even a full year after the franchises best season ever and only a year-and-a-half into Jordan's tenure of ownership. Take a look at the Bobcats roster and someone tell me how that team is going to win 15 games next year. They may have trouble scoring 75 points in the majority of their games.
All the optimists are going to say that "they're rebuilding." I get that. They have a fairly weak roster but it does have some potential. They also have a top-five pick the next three year's now. But why are they rebuilding? Two seasons ago they were a playoff team. This isn't the Timberwolves who have been bad for awhile now and honestly needed restructuring. This was a playoff team whose owner buried them in less than two years by getting rid of most of the team's bright spots.
I know a lot of people are going to be hesitant to blame the great Michael Jordan, but his accomplishments as a player are not so great to the point where they should blind people from the egregious mistakes he has made in his short time as an NBA owner.