MJ’s Hornets going back to the future

CHARLOTTE — Give him the ball and get out of the way.

For years, that was the first ingredient to the recipe for success that helped make Michael Jordan the first true global icon the NBA ever produced. It was like nothing anyone had ever seen.

Fast forward 30 years and it’s the same ingredients for the owner of the Charlotte Hornets. Jordan and the entire management team have rebranded the former Charlotte Bobcats, bringing the buzz back to this city in an unprecedented fashion for the start of the 2014-15 season.

After taking over Twitter on Tuesday (above), MJ held court in a different way, hosting eight reporters from around the country for lunch at Time Warner Cable Arena just hours before the Hornets home opener against the Milwaukee Bucks.

He didn’t need any fancy introduction. He simply walked in, grabbed his seat in the middle of the room and said bring it on.

Like I said, give him the ball and get out of the way …

Q: Are you a better owner today than you were when you first took over, and if so, how did that come about?

MJ: Uh, you have to define what better is really. Am I a more experienced owner? Yes. Am I an owner that made mistakes? Yes. Am I an owner that made good decisions? I like to assume so, yes. But it’s amazing what winning does. I always considered myself an owner that was dedicated to doing the best job to bring the best team here to the city of Charlotte. And with that comes a lot of criticism based on wins and losses. And based on the wins and losses over the years I’ve been in ownership, people have questioned that. Now that we’re winning, people are giving their opinions about that from a different perspective. I’ve always considered myself a very successful owner that tries to make sound decisions. And when you make bad decisions, you learn from that and move forward. I think I’m better in that sense. I’ve experienced all of the different valleys and lows that ownership and successful of business. If that constitutes me being a better owner, than I guess I am.

Q: How tough is it to know when to insert yourself as an owner and when you let your “team” do their business on a daily basis and not interfere with that process?

MJ: In some ways it is very similar to a game. When you feel like you can make an impact and give some insight, some leadership, you do that. You kind of read the scenarios. For me to make good sound decisions I have to understand every facet of what’s happening within the building and within the team. These guys keep me up to date and inform me of all the decisions that need to be made. I dissect that and when the decision is made we collaborate and I ask for their opinion, they ask for my opinion and then at the end of the day we have to formulate a plan and then ride with it. That’s kind of the formula that happens underneath this roof. But it all starts with me. The criticism starts with me. And if things go well, everybody always look a bunch of different ways. But if things go bad, they always look to the top. And I understand that, which makes me get more involved. I understand all the decision-making that has to be done and get a grip on all the things that have to be done.

Q: What do you understand about the role of an owner now that you didn’t understand as a player?

MJ: It’s a big team and you want the team to understand exactly what the focus is. You want to be able to relate from top to bottom. And it’s a bigger responsibility. When you’re the leader of an organization, they look for you in a lot of different ways. And you have to exert that kind of confidence, determination and effort. And the decision-making process, so that has been the process for me over the last four years of ownership … learning the process and applying my personality, thoughts, wishes and leadership whenever necessary so that when the time comes we can make sound decisions. It’s about implementing systems and things that work for this organization. And what may work for this organization may be totally different for other organizations … understanding the dynamics of that. And it’s believe me, it’s been fun. It’s been hard, but I’ve had fun doing it.

Q: You’ve tried different things as an owner, different people in different positions. Why does the combination right now — owner, general manager and coach — in terms of what you want to do?

MJ: Things have fallen into place. The business and the basketball are working hand in hand. And they both have different dynamics. The business has certain things they to do to make sure we maximize all the energy and effort that we have on our team. Same thing on the basketball side. They have to understand how to get the returns on free agency, the Draft and all of the guys we have on our team and somehow, collectively, form the overall product and keep the business thriving and growing. And that’s where I think the last couple of years things have started to happen. The business has really been strong. Our guys beating the bushes to get the community back involved, to get the corporate sponsors back involved. And all of those things back working in a positive way the basketball back to where we are restructuring with coaches and players and things of that nature and now you have both of them on the same page and both of them working in hand in hand to where everything started to turn into a prosperous situation. And it makes me look like a genius. Sometimes it happens that way.


VIDEO: One-on-one conversation with Jordan, Part 1

Q: How different are you this time around compared to when you were with the Wizards, how have you changed?

MJ: It’s been a gradual change. With the Wizards, it was the first time I’ve ever been into the operations standpoint. I had different leadership, different perspectives, different initiatives, different roles, expectations from an organization standpoint, which I had no control. My initial responsibility – Fred [Brown] was there, he can tell you – it was trying to get from where we were to a much more positive sense. That had a lot to do with the financial aspect. And I felt like we did that. A lot of things happened – me going back to play, and in doing so we didn’t understand some of the dynamics of being a general manager in terms of selecting personnel, finding the right mix, finding the camaraderie, the continuity from a basketball sense. So that was a learning curve for me. Coming here in a similar role, I utilized some of those experiences to try to enhance, from a basketball sense, and once again I wasn’t in control of the overall goal of the organization. I was following that leadership. Not that I’m making an excuse, but it changed. Now I’m in control of everything. I can put my own DNA, I can put my own twists, I can put my own demands and start from a different leadership position. And those previous situations helped me set those type of standards for that type of leadership and obviously my participation in all of that. And I think that I’m better because of that. It was a well-traveled road, probably one of the roads I wouldn’t have suggested for myself, but yet I’m much better today because of that experience.

Q: Have we reached a point yet where small market team like the Hornets have a real chance to compete with the bigger markets [from a competitive and financial] standpoint?

MJ: No we haven’t. and I don’t know if we’ll ever get to that point. But I think the thing from my challenge is, look, we’ve got to manage this thing in a way that’s going to best suit this market, this community and this fan base. Will I ever be in the same category as the Lakers or the big-market teams? No.

Q: Aren’t you better than them [Lakers] now?

MJ: But in essence, that’s partly because of the way that we have managed the business along with the talent pool, along with the coaching staff. That’s going to change based on success. Success tends to change a lot of things – people deserve and are going to ask for more money, they’re going to ask for more tickets, ticket prices; a lot of things start to change the dynamics once you’re winning. San Antonio’s the ideal situation that’s been able to manage it all. And that’s kind of what we want to do. But will we ever be in a position to catch up to those major-market scenarios? No, and if you don’t manage your checkbook properly you can make some of the bigger mistakes of trying to do so, trying to get to that same type of scenario. We’ve come to grips in terms of where we are in the market that we’re in. Now we’re just trying to maximize every opportunity based on that market and in the process of that, put together a winning formula that can keep this process moving along.

Q: You had to stumble a few times in your search for the right fit in the coaching department. Was the coaching carousel frustrating?

MJ: It’s hard because we had some of the old. You can go out and find inexperience, or you can find someone who’s sitting on someone’s bench waiting for that opportunity with the right DNA. And we tried all facets and unfortunately we went the last route – we looked at someone’s bench who’s been in the game, 18 years been around the league, understood the facets, was waiting for his opportunity and it turned out to be the most profound and well-deserving scenario that we could pick. Unfortunately we had to go through two to get to this point. And sometimes it’s hard trying to find the right person with the right mix for the right team and the right relationship between management and the coaching staff. I think we did a good job this time. We do everything we can to try to nurture that relationship and maintain that relationship. It is frustrating to be in search of that DNA or that one particular guy, and yet it’s hard to figure out who you are as an organization initially. Sometimes you’ve got to make mistakes to get to that choice, and we did, unfortunately. But that is a process that you learn from and you build upon going forward.

Q: It’s been 30 years since you were a rookie, do you ever think about how long it’s been?

MJ: Nah, I haven’t thought about that. I’ve been too far removed to think about it. Granted, those are memories that every time you guys ask me that, you bring back those memories. But I’m in a different place right now. I’m happy where I am. Do I ever have thoughts of wishing I could still play the game? Yeah, I mean that’s human nature. But those are short thoughts until I pick up a ball or my knees start to hurt. I’m good. I’m right where I need to be. I’m very happy to be who I am.

Q: What’s one thing better and one thing worse about the NBA today than during your playing career?

MJ: That’s a tough one. It’s better, obviously, the business of basketball. From ownership as well as players standpoint. What’s worse? I don’t play the game now. There’s a lot of things I’m pretty sure I can point to. The talent is really tough to try to select who is going to be that player. Each and every year it’s almost a gamble, no matter how much you try to define. You invest in scouting and things of that nature, it’s never a given that the talent you select is going to be that talent that leads you to that next level. I think it was a little bit easier back in the day when kids were in school four years with coaching that was a little bit better. That’s a big change. Now will it ever get back to that, I don’t know. But you’ve got to do what you have to do now.

Q: With all of your experience with Nike and your own brand, did you use that as a guide for the rebranding of the Hornets?

MJ: You had a little bit of a guideline. With Jordan brand, we like to create from a blank wall. We couldn’t quite do that here with the Hornets because of the history that they had, the look, the color scheme … and everything like that. But our team is very excited with how we put our spin on it. Make it fresh, but still please the history of what the Hornets represented back in the day. I thought we did a great job. It wasn’t easy, but I think we did a humbly good job of making sure the consumer could really connect.

Q: Are you surprised it took this long to produce a winner here?

MJ: I think it’s harder than most people think. I’ve been an owner for four years. And some people have been in this business a lot longer and still haven’t put together a sustainable, successful scenario. So it’s not as easy as it seems. You look at teams like San Antonio and places like that. Even there, it took years to get to that level where they were good enough to sustain it. I’m not really worried about how I got here. I want to maintain it and be consistent about it. Because I’ve seen the other side of it and that’s not fun. This is the fun part, walking around this building and seeing all of these people. See the enjoyment and fun that’s coming to this building now based on the success that this team is doing. And that’s a better feeling than three years ago when guys were moping around and wondering what they’re jobs were going to be the next week.

Q: With free agency and all of the other things that are involved, how did you come up with the rebuilding plan here?

MJ: We put ourselves in a predicament where we can vie for some of those guys. One of the reasons we even chose this route is that four years ago, we were strapped with contracts that weren’t very healthy, didn’t give us any flexibility from a cap standpoint. Once that freed up, once we chose that route where we freed up that cap space, it gave us an opportunity to go entice people. Big Al [Jefferson] took a gamble on us. We took a gamble on him as well. I think it opened up the doors where we could always strengthen our team in free agency as well as through the draft. Maybe not as much in the draft because you don’t want to always be in that lottery. It gives a team flexibility to choose your own direction. I think as you move forward, free agency will continue to be an integral part to building your team. Once you get your corner pieces together, now you’ve got to plug certain holes. In Chicago, I actually was a part of that. One you get your cornerstone people, two or three guys, you plug into the talent you select. I see the organization going into that direction.


VIDEO: One-on-one conversation with Jordan, Part 2

Q: LeBron has talked about wanting to own a team some day. Do you feel like a pioneer of sorts having done it the way you have?

MJ: Yeah. I do. In some ways you feel good about it, that hopefully you’ve paved the roads for other players to do that. I’ve also paved the road that criticism is also going to be viewed in a much different way than other owners because of your talent, that you played the game and how you impacted the game. But it is a road that I would love to see other guys follow. Hopefully they will get the opportunity. I think you have to be forward vision. You can’t just wake up and say, ‘I want to own a team.’ You have to prepare yourself for that. I went through that road that led to this ownership, and I made some mistakes. But I’m better for that. I’m better because of that.

Q: You’ve been on both sides of the labor negotiations, how do you manage that player vs. owner dynamic now?

MJ: It’s important. I’m always going to try and understand the economics of the business, and that’s going to change through the collective bargaining agreement and all other facets. It’s important for all players, all business owners to understand how your business may change over a period of time. You have to strategize towards it, with it or against it. I’m in a unique position. I’ve been in both sides and understood – from a players standpoint (and) now from an owners standpoint. Now seeing how the dynamics may change down the road to strategize within my team, my organization to prepare for that. That’s an education I don’t if you can get that from most colleges. It is something that I have learned. Any other player, if they ever move to the other side, they’ve got to understand the dynamics of that, and that can change. A lot of times it can change how the rules change within the structure of the business. It’s been a learning curve and it’s been a great experience and I’ve been able to utilize all the education from both sides to operate within the structure of what the business guidelines are.

Q: Is it fair to criticize Kobe for taking money?

MJ: Everybody has an opinion. It’s how we view and accept that opinion. I can’t speak in terms how Kobe feels about the scenario. Can I criticize him for maximizing his opportunity from a financial standpoint? No. Does his decision affect how the team structures certain things? Maybe. But that’s something the team didn’t have to give him. They could’ve easily said no. They could’ve gave a different scenario with Kobe and he can make a choice from that standpoint. It’s easy to criticize from where we sit, and you don’t know all the dynamics and why and what the opportunities where for him. I’m not going to criticize him for taking advantage of the opportunity presented to him from a financial standpoint.

Q: You took over on social media [Tuesday], the Hornets Twitter. Is there going to be a Twitter takeover?

MJ: It was a one-day event. I’ve never been one of the guys who gets fascinated to let everyone know what I’m doing every minute of the day. I’m not fascinated by that. It was amazing the day yesterday how much people drew off of that. I didn’t anticipate that. They told me it could happen that way. It’s amazing how things happen now in this ear. I never thought that me drinking coffee or me photobombing someone would be that big of a thing. But it was one-day event. I don’t look to do that no other time.

Q: But you took a selfie?

MJ: I did. I did. But I never thought it was going to be – It was recommended that I at least try that one time. It’s unbelievable. I can’t fathom if I was playing in this day and era all the things I would have to do to keep up, just to maintain, as opposed to just playing the game of basketball.

Q: Where do you see team this season?

MJ: Anything can happen in the course of a season. Obviously, we have wishes. I would like to be better than we were last year. We built ourselves a base of 43 wins. I’d like to see us improve on that. I’d like to see us go deep into the playoffs. Hopefully we stay healthy, Lance fills in like we anticipate and for us to be a force in the East. Getting out of the East? I don’t know. A lot of things have to fall in place. A lot of maturity has to happen over this time frame. I love talking about this because we have potential to do that. It’s much better talking about it when you have the potential as opposed to talking about it and really don’t have the opportunity or potential to do so. It makes me feel good. I don’t want the guys to get complacent from what we did last year. I’d much rather see them stay hungry, keep striving and try to be an elite team and the best team in the league and if you have that focus and you keep working hard, the organization is going to support you from the top to the bottom. I am a player that was on both sides of success. When I first got to Chicago, we were not a great team. We worked our way to the top. Once we got to the top, we didn’t want to lose. We didn’t want to go back the other way. I want the feeling with that team. They made a statement last year. They’ve been to the bottom. Let’s work our way to the top and get that feeling.

Q: How do you keep guys focused/priorities straight re: Free agency/rookies:

MJ: There’s different expectations. It’s easy for me to lay my desires and my thoughts on these kids in a whole different aspect. When I played, money was the money. You earned, you went out, you did your job, you earned you money. Now, you get your money and now you really have to hope by paying them that they have the same motivations as if they didn’t have the money or they want the money. And that’s a different feeling. Any time you pay a substantial amount, you hope and you believe that that individual has the same mentality, the same motivations that you had when you played the game. It doesn’t always work that way, but you hope that way. When I talk to the players, I talk to the players trying to give them the education about their love for the game – because ultimately that’s what I expect from them. Their love for the game is what I expect. If you love something, you’re going to do it every single day no matter how much money you can make. If our guys think that way, they’re going to make the money, their going to play, they’re going to be successful and be better. That’s what I believe.

5 Comments

  1. NBA says:

    How bad will Lance Stephenson hurt this team’s chemistry? They finally made the playoffs last season and are on the right track but he has typically been a bad apple everywhere he has played. I really think a D League franchise would help Charlotte out immensely. The Spurs really put a lot of work and effort into their D League organization and it tends to help out the small markets more often. Jordan is a savvy businessman and owner, some owners are just incompetent so at least the Hornets have that working for them.

  2. Pamela Reed says:

    Man, I love MJ, great article!

  3. art says:

    MJ great job do you need a intern

  4. harriethehawk says:

    I concur PunjabiBlood.

  5. PunjabiBlood says:

    MJ’s winning spirt will win him championships again as an owner. He’s willing to fail over and over, learn from those mistakes to become great once again, because he’s not affraid to be a failure at the start, he wants to learn from mistakes and keep getting better. That all comes from the desire to be and stay a champion.