By Dave Wischnowsky-
(CBS) When Isiah Thomas retired from playing basketball in 1994, he was regarded as perhaps the best “little man” to ever lace up a pair of high-tops.
These days, however, he’s mostly regarded as a joke.
When Michael Jordan retired from playing basketball in 2003, he was regarded as the best – period – to ever lace up a pair of high-tops.
These days, however …
Now, when it comes to post-retirement embarrassments, Michael Jordan isn’t Isiah Thomas. Heck, no one is Isiah, who since calling it a playing career has managed to bankrupt the CBA, fail as a coach with the Pacers and Knicks, do the same as an executive with the Knicks and Raptors and then most recently manage to be fired as head coach of Florida International University.
Not even Rome flamed out that spectacularly.
On Thursday evening, though, Jordan’s off-the-court career did inch painfully closer to Isiah levels when the Charlotte Bobcats were whipped 104-84 by the Knicks in the season finale.
For Charlotte, the loss was its 23rd straight – ironically the same number that MJ wore as a player – meaning that the team owned by the greatest ever ended up finishing this season as the worst ever. With a final record of 7-59, the Bobcats’ .106 winning percentage is the lowest in NBA history, managing to limbo below the bar of .110 set by the 76ers way back in 1972-73.
On Wednesday, the Wall Street Journal published a story entitled “Which ex-NBA star is the worst NBA boss?” that shone a light on Jordan’s career as an executive, but hardly cast it in a positive one.
In the article, Thomas was indeed recognized as the worst NBA star-turned-boss with his winning percentage as a player at .566 compared to just .347 as an executive. Jordan, however, wasn’t far behind with a .649 clip on the court and a .369 mark in the front office.
The Wall Street Journal went on to write: “At the heart of Charlotte’s horrific year lies Michael Jordan, a man who is arguably the best player in NBA history and also one of its worst executives. The Bobcats have made the playoffs just once since Jordan took over basketball operations in 2006. (He became majority owner in 2010.)
“When Jordan held a similar front-office role with the Washington Wizards from 2000 until 2001, the results weren’t much better: He infamously selected Kwame Brown with the first pick of the 2001 draft.”
In six seasons under Jordan, the Bobcats are a woeful 185-290 and have made the postseason just once. They’ve also never won a playoff game. Such numbers have recently prompted everyone from the angry former Bobcats coach Larry Brown (“He’s around people who don’t have a clue.”) to MJ’s golf buddy Charles Barkley (“I don’t think Michael has hired enough people around him who will disagree.”) to call out Jordan’s management and decision-making.
Speaking to the Charlotte Observer, Jordan responded this week to the criticisms saying, “It’s absolutely wrong that I don’t want guys to challenge me. And the people who say that aren’t in the room.”
Those who closely followed Jordan’s playing career with the Bulls may recall how he’s long believed that he could make smarter personnel moves than the men who were making them. Or, at least, make smarter moves than Jerry Krause.
On Jan. 26, 1991 – in the midst of the Bulls’ first championship season – Sam Smith of the Chicago Tribune wrote about how Jordan was angry about the Bulls’ failure to trade for aging guard Walter Davis, with MJ calling it “the same old stuff” after learning that Davis had been dealt to Portland. Smith quoted Jordan as saying that if he were general manager “The Bulls would be much stronger.”
The Bulls, of course, went on to win six championships with Jordan playing instead of general managing.
Such a stubborn nature and superior confidence served Michael Jordan greatly on the court. But as an executive, it very well may be to his great detriment, as MJ may still think he still knows more than everyone else. And is slow to admit when he does not.
In the 1991 Tribune story, Smith also wrote how Jordan, who always was asking the Bulls to trade for former North Carolina players (such as Davis), was asked what other acquisitions he’d make.
“Well, maybe Dudley Bradley coming off the bench and Kenny Smith and Brad Daugherty,” Jordan joked.
Judging by his personnel decisions since, perhaps it wasn’t a joke. But if MJ isn’t careful with the Bobcats, his legacy may start to become one, like Isiah. And, really, no one wants to see that.
Well, except for maybe Jerry Krause, who surely is covered in crumbs and off laughing somewhere.
If nothing else, Dave Wischnowsky is an Illinois boy. Raised in Bourbonnais, educated at the University of Illinois and bred on sports in the Land of Lincoln, he now resides on Chicago’s North Side, just blocks from Wrigley Field. Formerly a reporter and blogger for the Chicago Tribune, Dave currently writes a syndicated column, The Wisch List, which you can check out via his blog at http://www.wischlist.com. Follow him on Twitter @wischlist and read more of his CBS Chicago blog entries here.