Saturday, February 18, 2012

Happy birthday, Michael

I'm a day late with birthday greetings for Michael Jordan. Hope he doesn't mind.

Come to think of it, he might.

My admiration of Jordan's abilities and performances as a basketball player remains extremely strong. Not only was he great on both ends of the court, but he had a will to win that was unmatched. The only person that could match him in that department probably was Bill Russell. Jordan's highlight videos will sell forever.

But since he left the Chicago Bulls, his record hasn't been quite as good. And it's almost as if everyone is willing to sweep that fact under the rug.

As you recall, Jordan took over the basketball operations of the Washington Bullets in 2000. He did clean out some bad contracts, but didn't show much talent in picking up replacements. Perhaps you remember Kwame Brown. He also seemed disinterested, often staying in Chicago and watching games on television. Jordan's biggest accomplishment was to make a comeback in the fall of 2001. No, the Wizards didn't improve much in the standings, but the slightly more earth-bound Jordan did sell a lot of tickets. He also called out several teammates who didn't meet his high standards.

When Jordan was finally done playing a couple of years later in 2003, he expected to return to his former administrative duties with the Wizards. Owner Abe Pollin essentially said, don't let the door hit you on your back on your way out. Jordan said later he never would have come back had he known that he would be treated that way. Welcome to our world, Michael.

Three years later, Jordan bought a stake in the Charlotte Bobcats. He ran the basketball operations there, and he became the managing general partner of the franchise in 2010. Since 2007, the Bobcats have had one winning season, which earned them the chance to lose four straight games to Orlando in the first round of the playoffs. This season the Bobcats, admitted hit by injuries, are playing like a team that could break the NBA record for worst winning percentage, currently held by the 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers (9-73). Jordan doesn't shoulder all the responsibility for this, but he should get a little of it.

The record of superstars who move into the management of professional sports is mixed. Jerry West turned into a great general manager. Wayne Gretzky's Phoenix team improved greatly once he left the bench. Russell was a much better coach when he started himself at center. It's a different set of skills, as Jordan probably has learned in the past few years.

What's more, Jordan's final statement about his basketball playing career came when he was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2009. Michael did thank some people who were helpful, but he also took the time to single out those who had somehow inspired him with perceived slights over the years. It made Jordan look ungracious and petty, when he had every reason to be the opposite of those qualities under the circumstances.

I can admire Jordan the basketball player, but before I dive too deeply in hero-worship I should remember Jordan the ex-basketball player. A little balance is always importance, even if it's probably not appreciated by the subject.

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