"I've always believed that if you put in the work, the results will come," Michael Jordan wrote in his book, "Driven from Within."
He has put in plenty of work for the Charlotte Bobcats, the team he owns and for which he serves as head of basketball operations, and the results haven't come.
This year, the Bobcats went 7-59 in a lockout-shortened season, setting a record for the worst record in the history of the NBA. Indeed, they have only had one winning season during Jordan's tenure, the only one in the history of the franchise, but that year they were swept in the first round of the playoffs. The question that I ask myself, from a psychoanalytic viewpoint, is how could a man considered by many to be the greatest basketball player of all time be so lousy at operating a team?
Jordan was not only a great athlete; he was also an intelligent one. He was a winner because he understood how to motivate himself to win. "If you run into a wall, don't turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it," he wrote.
The Bobcats seem to have hit a wall and, this year at least, they seemed to give up. Why wasn't Jordan able to motivate them?
And before he came to the Bobcats, Jordan was president of the Washington Wizards when they drafted Kwame Brown with the #1 pick in the draft. Brown turned out to be a bust, the Wizards didn't fare any better, and Jordan was fired.
Jordan may not be entirely responsible for what happened to the Wizards and what has happened to the Bobcats in the sense that it may not be so much about anything he did or didn't do. It may be more about his personality. He has one of those tough, charismatic, larger-than-life personalities that all great athletes share, a personality that worked for him on the court and inspired the players around him. But that same personality may make the present players who "serve" him feel diminished.
The Bobcats had two major losing streaks this season; the first went 16 games and the last went 23. During these streaks, where was Jordan? He seemed to take a hands-on approach in the beginning of the season, but when the team started losing he became more distant from the players. He rarely came to games and rarely made comments to the media. The last game he attended this season, according to the New York Times, was a Chicago Blackhawks hockey playoff game. Losing makes Jordan angry, apparently too angry to communicate with his players.
Former coach of the Bobcats, Larry Brown, who took the team to its only winning record and the playoffs in 2010, was fired in the middle of the following season. Brown recently commented about Jordan in a radio interview on "The Dan Patrick Show" that he regretted that he didn't have more face-to-face time with Jordan. "When I was able to visit with him and pick his brain, he knows, but he's got people around him that just make you sick," Brown said to Patrick. "And it was not comfortable. It was almost like there were spies wondering what you were doing and getting back to him."
The description by Brown suggests a man who is distrustful and surrounds himself with people he thinks will be loyal to him, no matter what. It suggests a man who only wants to hear what he wants to hear. And what he apparently wants to hear is that he knows best about basketball and about everything else. Hence the people around him may be "yes men" who approve all his decisions. When a man has won six championships and been the most dominant man of his era, he sometimes develops a false confidence that he can do anything. But can he?
Playing basketball is very different than running a basketball team. When you play the game of basketball, extreme confidence and even cockiness is a good thing, and the attitude that you and you alone have what it takes to win and everybody else must take a back seat to you can inspire others to follow you. But as an owner, a leader, a mentor, those same qualities can work to your detriment. Those same qualities may make you impatient with players that you perhaps expect to follow in your footsteps without giving them the guidance they need to do so.
Who is the real Michael Jordan? Is he the legendary basketball player who single-highhandedly led the Chicago Bulls to glory? Is he the macho, debonair man who appears in all the Hanes commercials? Is he the man whose name has become synonymous with success? Or is he the flawed man who admitted to a gambling addiction, who gave up his basketball career at his prime to try out for and fail to make the Chicago White Sox, and who now can't seem to find the handle on running a team?
"I've never been afraid to fail," Jordan wrote in his book. But at the moment he seems to be failing at running a team, and he doesn't seem happy about it.
And, meanwhile, his many fans aren't happy about it either, and they are waiting for the old Michael Jordan to show up again. They may have to keep waiting.
Gerald Schoenewolf, Ph.D., is a licensed psychoanalyst, professor of psychology and author of 20 books. He is also an avid sports fan.
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- Michael Jordan