CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) – Michael Jordan has had little time to consider the significance of being the first ex-player to buy an NBA team and just the second black majority owner.
The realities of what he’s taken on with the Charlotte Bobcats, on and off the court, have given him little time to reflect in what he calls his “shot of a lifetime.”
“Once we’ve gotten to the point where we’ve turned this around and it’s proved to be successful, then it’ll be far more gratifying than just being a stat,” Jordan told The Associated Press on Friday. “Someone who is the first to do it and doesn’t succeed, that to me is not intriguing.”
The Hall of Famer has experienced many of the unpleasant responsibilities of NBA ownership in the past seven months. He took on $150 million in debt with more on the way, lost starting point guard Raymond Felton in free agency, traded center Tyson Chandler essentially so Jordan wouldn’t pay a dollar-for-dollar luxury tax on payroll and had a couple months of uncertainty while coach Larry Brown wavered on if he’d return.
Yet the six-time NBA champion is happy he pulled the trigger just minutes before his exclusive window to buy the team from Bob Johnson expired at midnight on Feb. 26. Johnson was set to tell the team to a group headed by former Houston Rockets executive George Postolos.
“It almost didn’t happen. He actually gave me one last shot,” Jordan said of Johnson, the first black majority owner in the NBA. “He gave me one last opportunity and we jumped on it as fast as we could.”
While the purchase price was listed as $275 million – less than the $300 million Johnson paid for the expansion franchise – much of the deal included the assumption of debt and the promise to make capital improvements. Jordan owns 80 percent of the team and said he’s “comfortable” with that scenario.
But Jordan, who had been a part-owner with the final say on basketball decision since 2006, hasn’t wavered on refusing to pay the luxury tax, which kicks in after payroll reaches $70.3 million.
Jordan doesn’t think the tax should be paid unless a team is a championship contender. While the Bobcats made the playoffs for the first time in their six seasons last spring, they’re not close to winning a title.
So the Bobcats didn’t re-sign Felton and traded Chandler to Dallas for Erick Dampier, who was waived to clear $13 million of the cap.
And while the Bobcats’ cap issues gave them no chance at the LeBron James-led free-agent class this summer, he insists the Bobcats, led by Gerald Wallace and Stephen Jackson, are better than last season’s 44-38 team that was swept by Orlando in the first round.
“I think we’re going to be a better off team than we were last year,” Jordan said. “We’re together, we’re coming off some success from last year. Granted, Raymond’s not here. But when you think about, Tyson came off the bench.
“At the minimum, we should make the playoffs.”
The 70-year-old Brown will be charged with getting that done. The Hall of Famer, in his 13th head coaching job in the pros and college, nearly walked away in the offseason. He’s under contract through the 2011-12 season, and Jordan doesn’t think this will be his final season in Charlotte.
“I think he’s got way too much coaching in him,” Jordan said. “He’s still got one more year on his contract. And although we haven’t talked about any extension or anything of that nature, but you just see he has too much passion for coaching.”
Jordan insists he has a passion to own a team despite being out of the spotlight in his previous role as part-owner. Jordan acknowledges it’s been hard work, as he tries to make the team profitable amid continued backlash from fans upset over the Hornets’ departure for New Orleans in 2002 and with Johnson’s management style.
But Jordan, who has helped sell 2,000 new season ticket packages this year and gain 45 new sponsors in the past year, is discussing all subjects – even the team name.
Although Johnson has denied it, a popular opinion is that Johnson named the team after himself. So Jordan is conducting study to see if it’s feasible to change the Bobcats name.
“It’s not a financial thing. It’s a matter of, is it worth it? Is it in our best interest?” Jordan said. “Do we gain or lose from what we’ve done so far?”
Sitting at his desk with a Bobcats orange vest and with a smoldering cigar nearby, Jordan appeared at ease, but also determined to make the Bobcats successful.
“I’ve always wanted to own a team,” Jordan said. “The bonus is it’s in Charlotte, N.C. It’s where I grew up, North Carolina. It seemed like everything lined up, all the stars lined up, and it was just a matter of diving in and making it work.”
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.