Within most corners of the world, Michael Jordan is regarded as the best professional basketball player in NBA history. Stepping into his role as owner of the Charlotte Bobcats presented a major test for the league’s greatest challenge seeker. The ability to be involved, but not overstep was a hard lesson learned for MJ. When you’re used to dropping 30 every night, it’s easy to shift from on-court dominance to front office micromanaging.
When Jordan purchased the Bobcats, he was originally viewed as an absentee landlord. He was the private jetting, cigar-touting owner who’d pop in after the NCAA tournament to give his scouting report and shake up the roster. After making the playoffs in 2010, Jordan came to the realization that being a player, coach, owner, president or general manager of an NBA franchise are all different worlds. They’re parts of the same vehicle, but experience in one doesn’t always lend ability in another.
Michael Jordan had to understand that being the GOAT doesn’t make you the best judge of coach or talent. Phil Jackson must understand that being the greatest coach of all-time won’t make him the best president for the New York Knicks.
Ego aside, the student should now be the teacher.
Jordan had to quickly understand that none of his players had “Jordanesque” blood coursing through their veins. Furthermore, 99 percent of the league doesn’t possess the same ability to “slam mc’s like Scottie Pippen”. It took a string of poor roster decisions (like Kwame Brown and Adam Morrison) and short tenures of his favorite handpicked coaches to come to a different understanding. MJ came to the realization that although he might have been the best floor general as a player, his executive acumen was similar to that of a private.
In the same manner in which he needed a strong supporting cast with the Chicago Bulls, what Jordan realized and Jackson has yet to – is that isolation can win a few battles, but will never win the NBA war.
Rich Cho finally joined the Bobcats organization. He built strong rosters with the Oklahoma City Thunder and Portland Trail Blazers until he was abruptly dismissed from the Blazers. When he joined the Bobcats, Cho and Jordan agreed that the team owner should take care of ownership issues. As general manager, Cho would manage, and whomever the franchise would select as head coach would simply coach. Shortly after Jordan stepped aside, the Bobcats prospered. While Phil Jackson is expecting the same independence from Knicks owner James Dolan, he needs to apply the same method in his search for a new head coach.
And with Jordan out-of-the-way, the Bobcats have found themselves standing on unfamiliar but happy ground. They’re a competitive club, but still many moons away from being a contender. However at the end of 82 games plus four more in the post season, possessing the ability to compete is good enough – for now.
First-year Bobcats head coach Steve Clifford propelled a team that was written-off and forgotten in the league to the fourth best defensive squad, and the seventh seed in the East. As the club transitions from Bobcats to Hornets on the heels of its 43-win season (second most in franchise history), the relationship between Jordan and Clifford is a testament to historic greatness patiently paving the way for new greatness.
According to The Charlotte Observer’s Rick Bonnell Jordan regularly sends text messages to Clifford, offering lineup and coaching suggestions. They’re taken with much more than a grain of salt, however Clifford makes the final decision. Jordan communicates his points to Clifford with the respect that a player would have for his coach. After all, Jordan made his bones from being the greatest “player”. He’s just beginning to establish credibility to his residence as owner. Those clearly defined roles between Jordan, Cho and Clifford are what have turned the Bobcats around in such short time.
Jackson will have to do the same. The Zen Master is close to changing his moniker to “puppet-master”, while the better choice is to hire a coach who can change the Knicks culture. Just as Clifford has done for Charlotte. Although the Knicks are more talented on paper, the Bobcats are a demonstration of how being a unified organization can make you the better team.
It’s been 16 years since Jordan studied and performed under Phil Jackson. It was the last championship the Chicago Bulls have won, and the last time Phil Jackson would direct Jordan’s superior talent. Both have transitioned into new roles with organizations that had no part in their famous careers as a player and coach. As Jackson is a rookie in the executive game – Jordan has the ability to school him on being a superior executive. For the Knicks’ sake, hopefully Jackson has paid attention. For the Bobcats’ sake, with any luck he hasn’t.