CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA // With minutes to go until his exclusive negotiating window was to expire, Michael Jordan struck a deal late last night to buy a controlling interest in the Charlotte Bobcats, making the NBA's greatest player the owner of the money-losing team in his home state. Owner Bob Johnson announced in a statement that he's agreed to sell the Bobcats to Jordan, who'd been a part-owner since 2006.
Jordan has been running the team's basketball operations. The purchase price and details of Jordan's ownership group - called MJ Basketball Holdings LLC - weren't immediately available. A spokeswoman for Johnson and a spokesman for Jordan said neither man was available for comment early today. The league's owners must still approve the purchase. Jordan was in competition with former Houston Rockets executive George Postolos, who also had an ownership group together to buy the team, but Postolos said Jordan had the exclusive right to buy the club until just before midnight on Friday.
"I remain committed to becoming an NBA owner, and I'm glad that Michael will continue to bring his talent to the sport and the league," Postolos said. "He's very, very committed." It will end Johnson's stint as the first black majority owner of a major US professional sports team. Jordan becomes another black owner in another milestone for the Hall of Famer, but one that comes with many challenges.
Jordan, a six-time NBA champion, five-time NBA MVP and 14-time All-Star, has made millions lending his name to sneakers, apparel and other items. Now he'll begin a completely different role, trying to make the Bobcats a winner, and the team and Charlotte's downtown arena profitable. After paying US$300 million (Dh1.1 billion) for the expansion team that began play in 2004, Johnson accumulated about $150m in debt and the team was expected to lose tens of millions this season as it struggles to draw fans and find sponsorships.
Johnson, the founder of Black Entertainment Television, shook up management several times before recruiting Jordan to be a minority investor while giving him the final say on all basketball decisions. Jordan, who turned 47 this month, has had a unique role with the Bobcats. General manager Rod Higgins runs the day-to-day basketball operations and Jordan has rarely attended practices or games, or worked on the marketing side of the operation. Jordan has had some missteps - drafting the disappointing Adam Morrison No 3 overall in 2006 - but he was also able to lure Hall of Famer Larry Brown to become coach at the beginning of last season. Jordan and Brown have made seven trades involving 21 players since the start of last season. The November acquisition of Stephen Jackson from Golden State has helped Charlotte get into play-off contention in the Eastern Conference. But attendance has still lagged, and Jordan has been criticised in Charlotte for rarely being seen - despite his iconic status in the state.
Jordan grew up in Wilmington, led the University of North Carolina to the 1982 college championship with a last-second shot, then remained one of the state's favourite sons when he starred with the Chicago Bulls. Jordan's first stint as an NBA executive came with the Washington Wizards, where he was roundly criticised for drafting Kwame Brown with the No 1 overall pick in the 2001 draft. He changed roles when he returned briefly as a player, then was fired by owner Abe Pollin in 2003 when he tried to return to his role running the basketball operations. No one will be able to fire Jordan after he takes control of the Bobcats, and it's likely the team will not change much in the front office. Jordan's close friend, Fred Whitfield, is team president, and Higgins was Jordan's hire.