April 20, 2010
As this year's model of the Charlotte Bobcats opened the franchise's first-ever playoff series against the defending Eastern Conference champion Orlando Magic this past weekend, NBA TV aired an exclusive interview with Michael Jordan, dumb earring aficionado, touched-by-the-hand-of-God basketball marvel and, most recently, the Bobcats' controlling owner. During the 20-minute tete-a-tete with former Georgetown University head coach, NBA TV commentator and granite mountain of gravitas John Thompson, Jordan discussed the 'Cats playoff debut, dealing with Dwight Howard(notes) and the persistent notion that, in his previous role as minority owner/managing member of basketball operations, he was basically an absentee landlord:
When [former Bobcats majority owner] Bob [Johnson] brought me in, he brought me in as a basketball consultant. And I invested, and obviously I allowed him to make the business decisions and he allowed me to make the basketball decisions. And what was asked of me was never to be in the forefront of the organization. Whereas everyone was saying, 'We don't see him, we don't know if he's in town,' well, that was never asked of me initially.
Setting aside the disconnect between Jordan's description of his role as a "consultant" and the reality of his power over all basketball operations, this sounds weird. If true, it seems like kind of a giant error on Johnson's part. Why on Earth would you bring one of the most recognizable sports figures of all time -- not to mention a guy without a track record of front-office success and one high-profile operational flameout on his resume -- and not try to extract any value from his profile? If false, it would validate all those criticisms of Jordan as a guy who never really tried particularly hard to improve the team he was responsible for crafting into a winner.
More from MJ:
Now that I'm invested in the team, and now that my reputation or now that my financial commitment is at risk, where else would I be? I've got to be upfront, and I expected to be upfront once I made that commitment.
OK, I get it
-- your money's on the table, therefore your attention's there, too. (Oh, right.
Sorry.) At face value, adding MJ's brand of star power to the franchise
seems like it'd be a boon for the Bobcats, who drew 648,790 paying fans
for their home contests in 2009-2010, according to the NBA's annual attendance report.
That works out to an average of 15,824 fans per home game, only 82.9
percent of reported capacity at the Time Warner Cable Arena, which made
them the 22nd most-attended home squad in the league this year. Since
there's 30 teams in the league, that's not exactly the badger's nadgers.
But consider the franchise's Sisyphean journey. Butts-in-seats were up this year from 14,526 per night, 26th place in '08-'09, which was the nadir of a nasty four-year slide (from 16,366/22nd in '05-'06, Charlotte's second season, to 15,549/27th in '06-'07, to 14,717/24th in '07-'08). Overall NBA attendance dropped from '08-'09 to '09-'10, according to the league attendance report; Charlotte's went up for the first time in four years.
Now, correlation doesn't imply causation, but the uptick in the win column and the accomplished mission of the franchise's first playoff berth certainly seems like a pretty obvious catalyst for more people showin' up. Sure, Gerald Wallace(notes) is brilliant, Stephen Jackson(notes) is compelling and an engaged Larry Brown is cantankerously enjoyable, but ain't none of them selling tickets on their own. (Another possible explanation for increased turnstile traffic: Ladies Love Cool VladRad.)
Not only is this team newly playoff-caliber, but it's also winning with a defined on-court identity -- the Charlotte Bobcats are defensive nightmare fuel, a hard-nosed, athletic squad willing to eat two stiff jabs to land a hook to your ribs. Say what you will about the tenets of leading the league in Defensive Rating (according to Basketball-Reference) and tying for the lead in Defensive Efficiency (that's what Hoopdata tells me), Dude, but at least it's an ethos. For the first time (to a wider audience, at least), the Bobcats aren't just some vague, amorphous basketball thing in the place where Jake Delhomme ruined everything. Given the opportunity to evolve on their own, they've become who they are: A legit squad.
And now they're going to have the most famous person in the history of basketball deciding he's going to become the megawatt spotlight at the front of a train that had started to chug along just fine without him, thank you very much? It feels ... unseemly. Unfair. Like the 'Cats deserve to write their own story, without too much butting in from an editor that can't get over the fact that the suits took his column away and bumped him upstairs.
With the rock finally taking a breather from rolling back down that mountain -- a plus-.500 record, a franchise-first playoff appearance, some legitimate talent in place and a system that seems to work for them -- could this be the worst possible time for MJ to decide he's going to become Johnny Courtside, insert himself more forcibly into the structure of what his (alleged) disinterest has wrought and possibly muck up the recipe in the process? Even if it is, it's pretty hard to tell the G.O.A.T. to fall back, especially when he signs the checks.
That said, I can't claim to speak for any Bobcat, even this one. So let's hear what you think: Could more MJ be a bad thing for Charlotte, or can you never have too much of the greatest?