CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Michael Jordan is learning how to win without scoring a basket.
His Charlotte Hornets are winning and enter the season with high expectations. Jordan appears to be finally changing the losing culture around his franchise.
Looking relaxed, the six-time NBA champion smiled Tuesday as he talked about how gratifying winning a seventh would be — as if he knows something the rest of the NBA doesn’t.
Jordan said helping the Hornets win their first NBA title as an owner is something that drives him in his post-playing career. The Hall of Famer said it would be more rewarding because it’s tougher being an owner than it is being a player.
“I can impact the game in shorts and tennis shoes,” Jordan said at a press conference at the team’s downtown arena. “When I had those on it was easy to prove people wrong. It’s hard to do that now when I have a suit on. I have to rely upon other people understanding my message and my focus.”
But he can take some satisfaction knowing he has the Hornets heading in the right direction.
Charlotte is coming off a 43-39 season and Jordan hopes that with Lance Stephenson joining Al Jefferson and Kemba Walker, the building blocks are in place for his small-market team to make a run at the title.
Jordan took over as the Hornets primary owner in 2010 and made a commitment shortly thereafter to “strip things down.” For him, that meant breaking up a playoff team he felt was decent, but not good enough to win a championship. So Charlotte jettisoned players like Gerald Wallace and Stephen Jackson and began the process of rebuilding.
It meant suffering through a 7-59 season, the worst in NBA franchise history.
“That is tough for a competitor like me,” Jordan said. “But it left me even more determined to turn thing around.”
Things seem to be headed in that direction — with Jordan often helplessly sitting courtside in a suit.
Mark Price, who played 12 seasons in the NBA, said he can relate to how hard it is for Jordan not to be able to throw on a No. 23 jersey and take the floor.
“Mike wouldn’t have achieved what he achieved in his life if he hadn’t been a super competitive person,” said Price, now an assistant coach for the Hornets. “You don’t lose that. So he’s trying to have an impact as an owner.”
Trying to find how to do that has led to criticism of Jordan — that his hands-on involvement has resulted in poor personnel decisions and losing records.
But the Hornets recent success and promising outlook is vindication for Jordan.
“We all want to be a part of something successful and to do that you have to make a mistake here or there,” Jordan said. “There’s not one successful person in his life that has not made mistakes. You try to learn from those mistakes and make sound decisions going forward.”
Hornets coach Steve Clifford said Jordan is learning how to successfully compete from the front office.
The coach points to the free agent acquisitions of Jefferson — a third-team All-NBA selection last season — and Stephenson the last two years as examples of him upgrading the team’s roster.
The coach said Jordan won’t ever accept losing and that “he’s done everything an owner can do to help his team.”
“I know there is only so much he can do, and I know he’d like to suit up and come out and play with us — and we would like that, too,” Jefferson said. “But he’s having an impact in other ways.”
Jordan invested $41 million over three seasons in Jefferson last year and $27 million over three years in Stephenson.
The Hornets also agreed to a four-year, $48 million contract extension Tuesday with point guard Kemba Walker, a person familiar with the deal said. The person spoke on condition of anonymity to The Associated Press because the deal had not been announced publicly.
“I don’t think people have any idea of how involved he is in personnel decisions and the draft,” Clifford said.
Clifford said the five-time NBA Most Valuable Player and 14-time All-Star gives “very constructive advice” to coaches and players when he sees things that might help the team or an individual improve — without crossing the line.
“He will make sure I know his opinion,” Clifford said. “But the thing he always says is ‘you’re the coach. You do what you want, but this is what I see.'”
And what Jordan clearly envisions down the road is a championship.
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