Jordan on his Charlotte role: 'I'm more just an overseer'
BRIXTON, England -- Michael Jordan may have been a virtual recluse of late in Charlotte, where he has a management role with the NBA's Bobcats, but 3,000-plus miles away, the basketball legend is highly visible this week.
The Bobcats' Managing Member of Basketball Operations flew into London from Paris Thursday afternoon, part of a hectic, five-city, 10-day Nike promotional tour to re-launch his Brand Jordan in Europe.
"It's not a day-to-day responsibility," said Jordan, explaining his absence from Charlotte so close to the start of the NBA regular season. "I think it's more overseeing the people in place, making sure they make sound, good business decisions and basketball decisions. And I think I understand that portion of the business and I'm just going to lend my help to that business.
"Even though I have invested financially I am more just an overseer of what's been going on and making sure, from an investment standpoint, it's being done properly."
Jordan also fielded questions about comparing his current position with the one he held previously with the Washington Wizards and which he has talked of previously in not exactly glowing terms.
"I thought it was a great one," said Jordan when asked if the Washington experience had been disappointing. "Most people didn't, because we didn't win a championship and they [Wizards] decided to go in a different direction at that time.
"I understood what was asked of the business and some of the choices you have to make from a business standpoint. I think that is going to aid me a lot in overlooking what's happening in Charlotte, giving my advice to that.
"But look at how they built that team. Obviously, we had to create [cap] room, we had to do our job from a financial standpoint so the team could go out and acquire players like [Gilbert] Arenas and some of the other players. When I first got there they were definitely in a hole, when I left they were not. So I like to think that was somewhat successful."
The difference between his high-profile position in Washington and the fact that he has rarely even been seen in Charlotte, conversing frequently with general manager and coach Bernie Bickerstaff by phone, has been obvious and Jordan confirmed his new below-the-radar approach to life in the front office.
"You're absolutely right," he said. "I think what is going to be asked of me is my expertise to help build that team. Sure, I imagine my involvement being around the city, seeing people, maybe having dinners here and there is going to help and I'm not afraid of that.
"People want to see a product, what is being played on the court, I'm a part of that because I invested in that but don't do it because you expect to see me on a basketball court!"
Still, Jordan boxed clever when quizzed about his approach to the building of the Bobcats team. The financially cautious Johnson will have salary cap room to operate a year from now but Jordan, citing the development of youngsters Emeka Okafor, Adam Morrison, Raymond Felton and Sean May claimed Charlotte may not even need to be major players in that marketplace.
"We are looking at all the ways to try and improve," he said. "To say what we are going to do next year is not giving a full understanding and vision in terms of what we are THIS year.
"We have four young players who could definitely develop to where we need very little else. I think this year is an evolution time, especially for me overlooking the team, to see what we need and what we may not need."
Of course, what the Bobcats, like most NBA teams, most sorely need is the next MJ, for reasons of increased ticket sales as much as on-court prowess. Ever the competitor, Jordan, 43, admitted that this time of year sees him yearning for one last hurrah.
"When the season starts, like it is right now, you get an itch," he smiled. "But it's not big enough to scratch!
"I live vicariously through other situations -- the Bobcats, my kids. I'm just a fan of basketball, I love watching it. The thing is, I know deep down my mind still feels like I can play but physically I am not the same."
Jordan attended a camp run in his name by retired England international Steve Bucknall, who followed Jordan at UNC and went on to become the first Brit to appear in the NBA with the Los Angeles Lakers. Jordan also stunned 16-year-old Kenroy Woods, from Harrow, when he presented him with a trophy for MVP of the camp's All-Star game.
The Bulls' legend was returning to Brixton -- and the program which first introduced current Chicago forward Luol Deng to basketball -- for the first time in 21 years. And Jordan, who played, arguably, the key role in helping make basketball the European-wide phenomenon it has become following his appearance at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, admitted he has been stunned at how quickly the Euro game has caught, and overtaken, the US in international play.
The influx of international, particularly European, players into the NBA has also not escaped the attention of Jordan as he wears his NBA exec's hat.
He said: "I knew they would get better but I didn't think they would beat us regularly. You can see that basketball skill level is getting better each and every year.
"They have more opportunity to get better than we do because of the practice time they have. They only have one game a week and the rest of the time they are working on their skills, as opposed to in the US where we play a lot more games.
"It's a trend because of how European players play, their style is very versatile. Most teams now are trying to build as much of a different look as they can and versatility helps the coaches. European players are strong for that, being able to do more things, become more of a role player. Sometimes they become stars, like [Dirk] Nowitzki, Tony Parker, those kind of guys.
"You can see their involvement in the NBA is getting bigger and bigger, stronger and stronger. As teams we have to go outside the States and find better players."
While that may have offered a clue to the Bobcats' future scouting emphasis, Jordan believes it may prove a long process to return the US to the top of the world standings.
"I think what is being done, and being talked about, is more of a conscious effort to get the star players to play," said Jordan. "Not just for one summer but to do it over three or four summers, which is what national teams do in Europe.
"They have been together a lot longer and know how to fit into roles, play together. You are seeing the US starting to understand the importance of this. We have to get a group of guys, a core of 20 guys, and alternate them, get them to play together, be comfortable together. Until that happens, we will struggle competing against European teams because they are getting a lot, lot better."
Ian Whittell covers the NBA for the London Times and BSkyB.
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