JORDAN DOESN'T NEED TODAY’S NBA, BUT HIS ABSENCE WILL BE DEVASTATING
The G.O.A.T. is selling his majority stake in the Charlotte Hornets, more likely because he’s tired of entitled stars — load management, trade demands, a gun in a club — than his struggles as an owner
He’ll still have his high-end sneaker brand, with revenues of $5.1 billion last year, keeping him uber-relevant among new generations and the parents who fork out the $200.
He’ll still have his global celebrity, soon to resonate again in an upcoming feature film about his partnership with Nike, called “AIR” and directed by an admittedly starstruck Ben Affleck.
He’ll still have his Greatest Of All Time title, safe as LeBron James stumbles and wheezes and limps, unable to approach six NBA championships despite 20 seasons of hopscotching and trophy-hunting.
He’ll still have his net worth of $2.2 billion, which is astounding when he made only $90 million in salary during his playing career.
He’ll still have his golf game on Jupiter Island, where Tiger Woods takes his money when Tiger’s ex-girlfriend isn’t trying to take his.
He’ll still have his charities, such as Make-A-Wish, which benefits from his recent $10 million contribution to the foundation.
He’ll still have his NASCAR team, 23XI Racing, which he and owns and operates with the help of driver Denny Hamlin.
And he’ll still have his family, including a second wife who hasn’t taken his money and his two sons, one of whom, Marcus, continues to date Scottie Pippen’s ex-wife in the ultimate diss of his brooding longtime sidekick.
But unless Michael Jordan has bigger ideas — might he want to buy the Bulls and rescue Chicago from the Reinsdorf affliction? — he is about to disassociate himself from the league he turned into a global spectacle. Without Jordan, the NBA wouldn’t be seeking anywhere near $70 billion in its next media contracts, and without Jordan, basketball wouldn’t have blown past baseball as America’s second-biggest sport. Yet reports indicate he is selling his majority stake in the Charlotte Hornets, preferring a minority slice, meaning he makes no decisions and needn’t show up to watch his god-awful team. He’ll be on the periphery, far beyond the front lines, where Gabe Plotkin and Rick Schnall — who and who? — will buy his share and assume the big roles as co-governors.
His detractors — and they’re out there, oddly enough, even in Chicago — will say Jordan is surrendering after a long run of unsuccessful ownership. And yes, evidenced by the agony etched in his aging face during infrequent arena drop-ins, it must be killing this bloodthirsty competitor that the Hornets have made the playoffs only twice in his 11-plus seasons. He hasn’t been a good owner, the antithesis of his world takeover as a player, and he’s surely sick of hiring and firing head coaches — he has employed five, including current sucker Steve Clifford twice — as his team has gone 418-600. He was bothered by criticism when he playfully slapped Malik Monk in the head in 2018, and since then, he hasn’t been around much. The Hornets can’t even tank properly, failing to lose enough to keep up with Detroit, Houston and San Antonio in the futility race for Parisian phenom Victor Wembanyama.
But please understand this: Jordan’s ownership flop won’t be even a pimple on the entirety of his life legacy. No one will remember the Hornets or care. He’ll always be known as the G.O.A.T. of all G.O.A.T.s — for the Jumpman logo, for his international renown, for the explosion of his crossover acclaim, for the billion-dollar doors he opened for James and others, for the YouTube highlights that never get old and lately, three decades into the 21st century, for “The Last Dance” and “AIR.”
He will not miss the NBA, especially in its current context and condition. Think a man who played all 82 regular-season games nine times — who fought through sickness in Utah, who turned on team management because he wasn’t allowed to play through a broken foot, who dealt with wrist sprains and broken fingers and knee soreness like they were chipped toenails — is disgusted by the “load management’’ that allows players to routinely miss games? Think a man who remained loyal to the Bulls, despite being lowballed by a cheap owner who wouldn’t rip up an original $24 million deal over eight years, condemns James for having four different career paths and Kevin Durant for demanding trades and changing teams like underwear? Think he gets why Kyrie Irving is Kyrie Irving, why Ja Morant waves a gun on Instagram Live in a Denver strip club called Shotgun Willie’s?
Rarely does he sit down for an interview. But at 60, Jordan surely doesn’t like the rampant entitlement that grew like poison ivy from the empowerment seeds he planted. Oh, wouldn’t he love to whip LeBron as an owner? Or Durant or Irving in a playoff series? Those days are gone. His franchise is an also-ran, in need of fresh leadership. He has stopped caring.
So it’s best he’s going, off to the rest of his busy life. But here’s the truth: The NBA is not the NBA without him. Not only is he the league’s only Black majority owner, he is the living, breathing embodiment of the sport’s greatest and most prosperous era. If anything, he should be the commissioner, kicking ass when Irving and Morant screw up and not letting them slide as Adam Silver does. I never thought I’d see the day when Michael Jordan derived more joy as a race-car owner — and have more success — than in the NBA.
But there he was last year, wearing red noise-cancelling headphones in the pit box, watching his Jordan Brand car win for the second time on the NASCAR circuit. Racing’s weird gain is pro basketball’s overwhelming loss.
Jay Mariotti, called “without question the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ writes general sports columns for Substack while appearing on some of the 1,678,498 podcasts and shows in production today. He is an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and talk/podcast host. Living in Los Angeles, he gravitated by osmosis to film projects.