Ball Don't Lie

Larry Brown blasts Michael Jordan’s Charlotte Bobcat culture of ‘spies’ and people that made him ‘sick’

Kelly Dwyer
Ball Don't Lie

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Michael Jordan talks to Larry Brown with a hidden mic under his cap (Getty Images)

With their respective playoff seedings all but assured, the Orlando Magic and New York Knicks are likely to rest as many starters as possible on Wednesday and Thursday night, as they take on the Charlotte Bobcats. And, because the Bobcats are the Bobcats, it probably won't matter. Dwight Howard might be on the road to recovery, the Knicks might still be undergoing their hundredth rotation permutation of the shortened season, and yet they'll both probably take down a miserable Bobcats team that is about to set an NBA record for the worst winning percentage in a regular season.

And on the eve of those potentially record-setting losses, former Bobcats coach Larry Brown took to the airwaves to discuss the "spies" that he felt team owner and one-time (and possibly current) personnel chief Michael Jordan employed around the only coach to lead the Bobcats to the playoffs. Appearing on "The Dan Patrick Show" on Wednesday, the newly hired Southern Methodist University coach relayed that Jordan works "around people who don't have a clue," and that the fellow University of North Carolina product "had people around me that made me sick."

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This dovetails nicely with some of the rumors that have surfaced around Jordan's five-year tenure as (initially) team personnel el jefe, and eventual owner. Charles Barkley was the first to complain about the yes men that MJ surrounded himself with in Charlotte, and then former coach Sam Vincent discussed the six-time champion's apparent dodgy work ethic in comments he later added several caveats to. Brown's accusations, with charges of "spies" employed just to keep an eye on the coach, are by far the weightiest. But does LB have a point? Or is he just frustrated as usual at yet another NBA coaching gig gone pear-shaped?

Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer was the one who relayed these quotes to us, and you'll be hard-pressed to find a wiser NBA beat writer (dating back to his work with the Charlotte Hornets) more understanding of nuance and either side of the coin. And we're joining in with Bonnell as he throws a little baking powder on this grease fire. Here's Rick's take:

I have great respect for Brown and his basketball knowledge, but I feel sorry for [president of basketball operations Rod] Higgins in this. I can't tell you how often, following practice, Mike Cranston (then the Charlotte sportswriter for Associated Press) and I would watch Brown take Higgins aside for the never-ending critiques of the team.

I found Higgins remarkably patient with Brown's persona. I'm sure Larry saw it the opposite; as Higgins paying lip service to Brown's concerns, while holding him at a distance from Jordan.

The problem with Brown, which was apparent from the absolute outset following his hiring as Bobcats coach in 2008, was that this was clearly his last chance as an NBA coach. With each move Larry made in jumping from San Antonio to Los Angeles to Indiana to Philadelphia to Detroit to the New York Knicks (all in 14 years work, mind you), his departures became more and more acrimonious. And after failing to grab an NBA job after his disastrous spell with the Knicks, Larry dug in with Jordan and the Bobcats fully knowing that Jordan was working on the cheap while attempting to buy the team.

Soon after purchasing the Bobcats in the early spring of 2010, the team made its lone playoff appearance. Anyone with just a passing knowledge of NBA ball, though, could have told you that this was a win-now outfit with limited upside, lucky to make the eighth seventh seed it grabbed that year. When Jordan dealt Tyson Chandler in the offseason for Erick Dampier's unguaranteed contract that summer, it made absolute and total sense. Jordan was going skinflint, after assuming former owner Robert Johnson's massive debts as ruler of the struggling franchise. For Larry to act as if he didn't see this coming is an absolute joke.

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This falls right in line with Brown's history as a coach who seemingly wants a new roster for every game he plays. No coach in the modern era consistently falls in and out of love with players as much as Brown, there's a reason he jumps from team to team after getting sick with the hands he's been dealt, and there's a reason he's had to work under GMs both great (Donnie Walsh), good (Joe Dumars), and awful (Isiah Thomas, Billy King and Jordan) instead of getting to call the shots himself. Though Higgins was the ostensible GM, he was likely the fall guy — bitched at by Brown, ignored by an owner in Jordan distracted by both the golf course, and the bottom line.

On the flip side, Brown isn't wrong when he points out that "a coach, a GM and a president all have to be attached at the hip." And this takeaway line is pretty damning:

"It was almost like they were spies wondering what we were doing and getting back to him."

But it's also typical. And for someone who has been working as a pro basketball coach since the mid 1970s, for Brown to act as if this is nothing new is ridiculous.

Of course NBA owners and GMs will have front office types reporting back to them on the work of the coaching staff, without actually consulting the coaching staff. That's how it goes. Owners and GMs (in Jordan's case, at least before he hired current Bobcats GM Rich Cho, that role was filled by the same person) aren't doing their due diligence if they take every word from the head coach as gospel. You need other voices, whether they're dissenting voices or not.

Brown's not stupid. He knew the intractable nature of that Bobcat roster heading in. How the team didn't have much by way of tradeable assets, and that it was basically built for what eventually happened — two mediocre seasons and one playoff appearance under Brown in 2008-09 and 2009-10. For Brown to take advantage of Jordan's (well-deserved) terrible reputation as Bobcats owner and personnel boss right now using paranoia and revisionist history as a crutch is disingenuous at best and weasel-y at worst. Nobody's been more critical of Jordan than this scribe since he took over in Charlotte, but Brown is selling you a bill of goods, here.

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Larry Brown knew what he was doing when he cashed in that last chance, a desperate coach signing on with a desperate team. For him to act as if his turn with the Bobcats ended up anywhere beyond what was expected is just face-saving, and kicking an owner and franchise when they're down.

The Bobcats deserve to be down. They haven't planned nor participated well since entering the NBA in 2004. Michael Jordan deserves every bit of criticism that has been levied at him.

Not this batch, though. Not Larry Brown's take.

UPDATE: Michael Jordan, in an exclusive interview with Bonnell, just about tells Larry Brown (et al) to sod off.

Here's a quote, from Wednesday:

"It's absolutely wrong that I don't want guys to challenge me. And the people who say that aren't in the room,'' Jordan told the Observer.

"The idea that people can't do that is just wrong. Curtis (Polk, team vice chairman) has worked with me for over 20 years and he's never had a problem telling me, 'no.' Rod (Higgins, president of basketball operations) has no problem telling me no. Fred (Whitfield, team president) has no problem telling me 'no.' And Rich (Cho, the team's general manager) is about as direct and candid a person as you'll ever meet.''

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