Commentary

MJ: On top of his own world again

Michael Jordan is back in charge as the prospective owner of the Charlotte Bobcats

Originally Published: March 3, 2010
By Roy S. Johnson | Special to ESPN.com

He couldn't have him traded, couldn't get him cut.

He couldn't browbeat him into compliance as he did to so many teammates in practice throughout the years.

[+] EnlargeMichael Jordan
AP Photo/Chuck BurtonIs Michael Jordan getting the last laugh again? It might appear so at his first game as the prospective owner of the Bobcats on Monday.

So Michael Jordan did the only thing he could do to one-up Bob Johnson and get to the top: He wrote a check. A sizable one. Jordan, never comfortable as a complement, is purchasing a controlling interest in the Charlotte Bobcats, the team founded by (and some say named for) the billionaire former owner of Black Entertainment Television. Johnson reportedly was losing more than $30 million a year and was unable to persuade local investors to join him in the fun.

The price tag for the franchise is said to exceed $250 million, according to Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer. A controlling interest, by league rules, would have to be at least 15 percent, which would put the cost of MJ's share in the neighborhood of $37.5 million at a minimum. The greatest player ever to play the game put together a consortium of investors to pull off the deal, a new team of Jordanaires -- aka MJ Basketball Holdings. NBA commissioner David Stern says the transaction likely will be approved swiftly, before the end of the month.

Duh.

This is no ordinary sports transaction, not simply another bounce pass between super-rich guys looking to boost their visibility and egos. In fact, MJ's latest move ultimately could be his most critical steal ever.

That he becomes the first former player to own controlling interest in an NBA franchise is a historical breakthrough worth noting. No one better epitomizes the new era of highly paid pro athletes than Jordan does. MJ earned millions on the court, but those dollars paled relative to what he earned as an endorser and, even more important, as a living, breathing, flying brand. In 1998, I wrote a cover story for Fortune magazine titled "The Jordan Effect." I chronicled his financial impact on the NBA, the Bulls, Nike, Gatorade and myriad other enterprises with which he was aligned. With the help of other reporters and economists, we resolved that MJ had generated $8 billion in revenue -- and still counting.

He continued to generate wealth in retirement through Brand Jordan and other ventures. Last year, Forbes estimated he earned $45 million in royalties from $1 billion in Brand Jordan sales.

This move, buying a sports franchise, truly signifies the magnitude of his wealth and affirms his transition from player to owner. It's a place many players talk about and dream about, but few are able to even dabble in. (Magic Johnson owns a noncontrolling interest in the Lakers.)

Now MJ has the ball in his hands again.

When he joined Bob Johnson as Charlotte's head of basketball operations and the team's second-largest shareholder in 2006, some people who know both men, including myself, mused that it would be only a matter of time before the partnership collapsed. Why? It's hard to stay happy with two superstar playmakers. Think Shaq-Kobe.

So it's time for MJ to make more of his signature magic.

More than anything, this purchase gives him the ultimate platform to rewrite his post-career legacy, one that has been largely unfulfilling to many who thought he could do more than simply sell shoes, who thought his wealth, aura and influence could have a positive impact on our world.

Well, MJ is not that guy. Never was. There's no MJ academy for youth. No major scholarship fund. No high-visibility initiative in his name to help the less fortunate. (To be fair, MJ and ex-wife, Juanita, reportedly pledged $5 million to a Chicago high school, and Brand Jordan has made donations to Habitat for Humanity and a Boys & Girls Club in Louisiana.) He never had a passion for politics and was an abomination as the Washington Wizards' president of basketball operations.

Turns out he was mostly really, really good at selling shoes.

Yet his tenure with the Bobcats appears to show that MJ has grasped one of the realities off the court that helped him to six NBA titles on it -- that despite his prodigious résumé, he cannot win alone. In Charlotte, he is surrounded by talented teammates he respects, i.e., general manager Rod Higgins and coach Larry Brown.

[+] EnlargeJordan/Brown
AP Photo/Chuck BurtonMJ appears to value the input of coach Larry Brown.

And he listens to them.

The biggest knock against him in his nonplaying roles with Washington and Charlotte has been absenteeism. MJ was rarely seen at practices or games, and when he did attend, he often would not return to his front-row seat after halftime.

It was as if he was saying that the team wasn't his, so why bother.

Already, that seems to have changed. Jordan was in the building Monday night for his first game as the Bobcats' prospective new owner, and he remained in his seat near the home team's bench into the final moment of his team's 89-84 loss to Dallas.

While he was there, he glad-handed with local politicians, power brokers and celebrities, according to Observer columnist Tom Sorensen.

It was a rare night of Bobcats buzz for a franchise that, for various reasons, has not been embraced at home, even in the midst of this solid season in which the team is in contention for a playoff spot.

Call it the new Jordan Effect: The local kid who went on to become a global icon can be the catalyst the team needs to win local support on par with the state's NFL and NHL franchises.

He can be a real influence on fans, players and local leaders.

The ball is in his hands again. And, as always, everyone is watching and waiting -- and expecting him to score.

To do that, the local kid has to be local. He has to stay in his seat.

Roy S. Johnson, a veteran sports journalist and media consultant, is the editor-in-chief of Men's Fitness. His blog is Ballers, Gamers and Scoundrels.

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Roy S. Johnson

Contributing writer, ESPN.com