Michael Jordan, the only Black owner of an NBA team, has been ridiculed by fans and friends alike because he has been unable to channel his genius as a player into running the business of a franchise. And he’s been sensitive to the criticism.
If you know anything about Jordan’s personality at all, even from afar, you know he’s uber-competitive.
So when he was awarded the Charlotte Business Journal’s 2014 Business Person of the Year, it was an affirmation to Jordan that opened the floodgates to his tears.
“I’m sort of emotional,” Jordan said, tears flowing. “I’ve been criticized in a lot of different areas from a business standpoint, but I take pride in the ideas and concepts and views that come out of this organization to build the type of basketball program… that the city of Charlotte can be proud of.”
What’s interesting about Jordan is that he’s a paradox. He has been virtually and frustratingly silent on social issues that impact Black people. He’s shown little compunction about not identifying with Black life. And yet, as owner of the Charlotte Bobcats, he’s made four of his top seven executives African-Americans. Which impulse is stronger—speaking out on injustices, or hiring Blacks in executive positions at a rate far higher than others?
The stronger move would be to do both. But Jordan’s need for universal acceptance imprisons him from stepping out, at least vocally.
As a businessman, he’s among the ultimate role models for Black youth. His Air Jordan brand is phenomenal. The fact that having a pair of sneakers with Jordan’s name on them has resulted in so much violence is a different point. That Jordan has not come out and asked for a stop to the violence is still another chink in his legend. But as it relates to business, Jordan is hands-on with the Jordan brand and it’s booming. He’s as much responsible for its annual billion-dollar success as anyone.
As an NBA executive, Jordan has had his struggles. As president of the Washington Wizards, he selected Kwame Brown with the first pick of the draft and he chose Adam Morrison in Charlotte with the third pick. That duo has amounted to a sack of deflated basketballs in the NBA.
But to be fair to Jordan, who knew Brown would be such an unenthused, meek 7-footer with little interest in fulfilling his potential? Almost every team in the league would have chosen him No. 1. Morrison, well, he was a stretch in the third spot, far less than the “next Larry Bird” that so-called experts claimed. Jordan fell for the okey-doke.
Those errors and others placed Jordan in the executive skillet. Charles Barkley, once a Jordan ally, called out Jordan in the media on his shortcoming. Jordan was livid. Barkley was dismissed after a profanity-laden phone call during with Jordan railed the TNT analyst for his criticism. Barkley said: “I thought my name was S.O.B. and M.F., like damn, I couldn’t even say anything.” They are no longer friends.
With the Bobcats, Jordan finally seems to be finding his way. He was unfair with Sam Vincent, a Black coach he fired after one season. Jordan gave him little talent to manage. His big offseason move, signing former Indiana enigmatic forward Lance Stephenson, has wrought less than stellar returns. But Kemba Walker, who Jordan drafted, and Al Jefferson, a free-agent signing, have been outstanding.
Charlotte remains out of the playoff picture by a half-game, toggling six games below .500, but the Bobcats have won three in a row and eight of their last 10 games. That’s progress, especially coming off a stunning 43-39 record last season and playoff berth for the second time since 2004.
“Thank you for allowing me to cry in front of you,” Jordan said to Erik Spanberg of the Charlotte Business Journal.
The tears were from relief and from acknowledgment of a job well done, something that seemed would never come his way as an executive. And while Jordan has much to prove to advance to another level as an owner, he does write a narrative no other owner can: A Black man whose status as an owner serves as tangible evidence to Black youths to dream outside of the sometimes-limited parameters. That alone is powerful.