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Why Michael Jordan’s Wizards Run Set Him Up For Billions in Charlotte

Last Updated: February 1, 2024
Part 3 of Boardroom’s MJ deep dive explores Washington what-ifs, endorsements in retirement, and eventual ownership back home.

On Sep. 11, 2001, Michael Jordan was supposed to announce his return to basketball.

On Sep. 11, 2002, Michael Jordan announced a move no one saw coming.

Having finished his first season outside of the playoffs as an active member of the Washington Wizards, MJ sent the blossoming Rip Hamilton to the Detroit Pistons in exchange for the established Jerry Stackhouse.

On the surface, moving a 23-year-old talent for an active All-Star was a win-now move meant to ramp up a postseason push for MJ’s last season in DC as a player and exec.

Behind the scenes, the intentions were more chess than checkers.

Michael Jordan Wizards
(Andrew D. Bernstein / NBAE / Getty Images

“People don’t understand the Rip Hamilton trade and why Michael did that,” Michael Wilbon told Boardroom. “The Kobe Bryant thing was very real.”

Clearing cap space as tensions rose in Los Angeles, MJ traded away a promising young talent to take on an expiring contract. Making the playoffs was a priority, but building a dynasty in DC was the bigger bet.

The major move was made in hopes of MJ signing his own Air Apparent the following summer.

“When Michael was an executive, Kobe wanted to come to DC when the whole thing was going south in LA,” said Wilbon. “It would’ve changed the story in basketball if Kobe wound up in Washington playing for Michael.”

In the third and final chapter of this deep-dive oral history, Boardroom breaks down MJ’s final season in DC on the court and across commerce.

Learn how MJ’s run in Washington prepared him for team ownership in Charlotte and almost changed the entire landscape of the NBA.

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Closing Time

Backed by a veteran ensemble, the 2002-03 NBA season would be Michael Jordan’s last hurrah as a hooper.

Turning 40, he played all 82 games — the only Wizard to do so.

Perhaps more impressive? He played 37 minutes a night.

In his Iron Man exit, he averaged 20 points, backed by nearly seven rebounds, four assists, and two steals a night.

Those counting numbers are roughly right on par with what Scottie Barnes, Jalen Williams, or RJ Barrett are each putting up this season in their early 20s.

While talking heads and online memes may debunk his output, those in attendance remember differently.

Kevin Garnett (NBA champion, Hall of Famer, Host of KG Certified): He played 82 games that year. Mike was a motherfucker both times. He was still talking that shit. He was still skilled.

Michael Wilbon (Award-winning Journalist, ESPN analyst): Michael played all 82 at 40 years old. That was the culture. Michael was gonna play 82 games; it was an affront to him if you suggested that he not.

That’s the culture of the league he grew up in and believed in. Bringing that to Washington was a big deal — and I wish they had it subsequently.

Michael Jordan Wizards
(Doug Pensinger / Getty Images)

Quentin Richardson (NBA veteran, Jordan Brand ambassador, Knuckleheads co-host): He’s 40 then, and I’m 41 now, and I don’t play no basketball. I’m not about to do none of the shit that he was doing.

Paul Pierce (NBA champion, Hall of Famer, co-host of KG Certified): I’ve been out of the league for the last six or seven years. I could give us 10 points in quality minutes.

Darren Rovell (Emmy Award-winning analyst, Sports Business Reporter): I was reporting back then. People dismiss his Wizards career despite scoring more than 20 points per game and having great games.

Brendan Haywood (NBA champion, UNC All-American, NBA TV analyst): He showed all the moves. Michael Jordan’s practices to me were sometimes better than the games because I got to see what went into it. I got to see what made greatness tick.

My second year, Byron Russell was on our team and they had a little rivalry. B Russ used to guard him in practice, and I just remember Mike consistently going at him day after day.

He was approaching practice like B Russ is still playing for the Utah Jazz, and it’s Game 6.

To see that every single day? The phenomenal footwork, the trash talk? He told B Russ, “We’re gonna start calling you ‘The Human Highlight Reel.’ Not because you have any highlights of your own, but because you’re in all of mine.” That was just consistent.

Michael Jordan Wizards
(David Liam Kyle / NBAE via Getty Images)

Rovell: I believe that’s where he met LeBron after a game. The fact that he played for the Wizards enabled a new group of people to see him. It enabled someone like LeBron, who was 14 at the time [Jordan retired from the Bulls], to have a different look at him.

People who didn’t get to see him with the Bulls? After someone’s career, they’re appreciated more.

He retired twice already, so it was another chance to see Jordan and how great he was. And it was slightly easier to get tickets than Bulls tickets because they weren’t winning.

Haywood: The Bulls Michael Jordan was better than the Wizards Michael Jordan. But Wizards Michael Jordan was still really, really good. And I got to see every single day why he was that good.

Rovell: Despite the fact that the Wizards weren’t that good, at every single game, celebrities had to be there.

Normally, that follows the line of a team that is great, but he had that type of following when he was playing with the Birmingham Barons — every single game was sold out.

People had gotten used to seeing Jordan in his element whether or not there was a great team around him.

Wilbon: That second year, I had hopes. The East was in between then. Indiana was still good, the Knicks were still good, the Nets with Jason Kidd, and Detroit was bouncing back.

People don’t understand the Rip Hamilton trade and why Michael did that.

Wizards What If?

The 2002-03 Washington Wizards failed to make the playoffs despite All-Star play from MJ and a veteran supporting cast.

Some blame the age and lack of continuity for the inferior ending. Few know the intentions behind switching staff midway into MJ’s Wizard reign.

Michael Jordan Wizards
(Dave Sandford / Getty Images)

Wilbon: The whole Rip Hamilton thing happened because he had to clear cap space. That’s what that was about, and I knew that in real time.

When the Lakers were going through that bump in the road, Michael wanted to be poised to take advantage, which is what good executives do.

The Rip Hamilton move happened because of that, plain and simple. He knew he was going to get killed for doing it, but that’s why he was doing it.

The Wizards pulled the plug, but it would’ve changed DC and that franchise.

Courted by his hero amid his ascent and team turmoil, Kobe had suitors in every American city.

Known to text MJ in the middle of the night for hoop advice and touted for going toe-to-toe with the GOAT at every opportunity, Bryant’s pending free agency loomed that last season.

Smartly, MJ looked to clear cap space while the Lakers looked to choose an alpha.

Ultimately, it never happened. However, the alternate reality may have been closer to coming to fruition than most know.

Wilbon: Kobe was coming to DC or wanted to. He talked to Michael all the time, and I knew that in real-time, even if it wasn’t something I could publicly report on. I talked to Kobe.

The Kobe Bryant thing was very real. Very real. Free agency is mysterious to most people, but the NBA free agency is about three markets: Florida and Southern California, and they don’t even go to New York!

Free agents go to a couple of places, and that’s it. But Washington, with Michael owning it, might have changed all that.

There was times I’d do a Lakers game, and after the game, people from [the] media are lined up to go in the locker room. Kobe would sort of wander past me and elbow me in the ribs, lean down, and say, “Would the old man of gotten 40 tonight? Could the old man have stopped me tonight?”

And it was only in that way of complete and udder adoration. He would say it with such joy.

I’ve only told those stories since then so people could get a sense of what they meant to each other.

Jay Williams (Duke National Champion, ESPN Analyst, Businessman): I had a close connection with KB. If Mike had a chance to mold Kobe? I think Kobe would’ve been even more different than he already was.

Kobe was able to do that from afar because he had this relentless nature and studied the techniques and moves. But I think that would’ve been different with Kobe being under his wing. I think Mike would’ve seen it differently and that would’ve escalated Kobe even earlier in his career.

When you’re young, you have a vet that says, “He’s different.” I don’t think Kobe had that right out of the gate, and he would’ve had that with Mike.

Kobe would’ve tried to bust his ass every day. And Michael would’ve tried to bust his ass every day.

Growing up in Philadelphia, Rip Hamilton and Kobe Bryant played AAU basketball together, remaining friends and competitors for decades.

In 2002, the trajectories of each Philly phenom and a looming summer sweepstakes almost changed the course of hoops history.

Wilbon: When Michael was an executive, Kobe wanted to come to DC while things were going south in LA. I’m sure he’s glad it turned out the way it turned out; everybody is except the people in Washington.

But it would’ve changed the story in basketball if Kobe wound up in Washington playing for Michael.

Metta Sandiford-Artest (NBA champion, NBA Defensive Player of the Year): It would’ve changed everything. Kobe would’ve taken over that team. He would’ve listened, and Kobe is already bringing that intensity. Mike would’ve had an opportunity to take his hand off the wheel and give that driver’s seat to Kobe.

Williams: Kobe would’ve not backed down from Michael. Michael wouldn’t have acquiesced, but he was ready to move on to ownership. He would’ve known that the keys to that Ferrari were in good hands.

Artest: Mike worked hard, even as a general manager. Mike still had that player passion in him, even when he was in a suit! If he had Kobe, he would’ve been more relaxed because Kobe would’ve taken that upon himself.

Michael Jordan Wizards
(G Fiume / Getty Images)

Rachel Nichols (Award-winning Journalist, Host of Headliners): It was a speculation, for sure, and something that everyone couldn’t have been more hopeful about.

That move in itself is such a window inside of MJ. Rip Hamilton was an incredible young talent. He was young but still forming. He saw Jerry Stackhouse, who he knew was a finished product.

Haywood: I wasn’t privy to those conversations. I liked playing with Rip, so I was sad to see him go. He was young, coming into his own and, selfishly? Anytime I set Rip a good screen, I’d get wide open for a dunk because his mid-range game was so cold.

In the end, both Kobe and Rip won championships and remained mentored by Mike.

Rip credits MJ for developing his midrange game that made him a three-time NBA All-Star and NBA champion in Detroit.

Their relationship reigns beyond basketball as Hamilton stands as one of the longest-tenured tentacles of the Jordan Brand family.

Michael Jordan Wizards
(Mario Tama / AFP)

Though the Kobe signing never happened in DC, the potential pressure of moving cross country worked well for the Air Apparent.

Staying in Los Angeles, Kobe became the full-time face of the franchise. Bryant went on to win two more championships to take his total to five — just one less than Mike — and made more than $323 million as a Laker.

While the 2002 trade and 2003 would-be summer signing spawn the biggest what-ifs in DC, sliding doors regarding the 2001 NBA Draft also prove interesting.

DC Draft Capital

As legend has it, Michael Jordan desired to draft Duke phenom Jay Williams in 2001, hoping he’d declare early so the Wizards could take him first overall.

Months after taking the front office job in DC, Jordan met Williams when he was beginning to blossom as a Blue Devil great.

Williams: My first real encounter with Mike was right before my sophomore year of college. I got invited to his Flight Camp out in Santa Barabra.

I was nervous to meet him because I’m a fucking Dukie! That’s how he talked to me! But you could tell there was love and camaraderie there because I was super competitive. I think that was the bridge that allowed us to build a relationship.

That was the year I blew up — Flight Camp, USA Basketball, and staying in the gym. Mike inspired me. In order to be different, I have to act different — every single day. I started getting up 700 made shots every single day. That became the barometer of my work ethic … from him.

Michael Jordan Wizards
(Andy Lyons / Allsport)

One week in Santa Barbra with MJ ignited a run from the Tobacco Road rival like none other.

Williams: In USA Basketball, I went against Jason Kidd, Gary Payton, and Ray Allen. I not only held my own; I excelled. So, going into my sophomore year, I felt like I was him. If I can do it against GP or Jason Kidd in their prime? Then, no one in college could stop me.

That set the tone for my sophomore year: winning the chip, winning the National Player of the Year award, having the chance to leave school early, and potentially being drafted by the Washington Wizards? You can’t make that up.

Notably, Williams returned to Durham for his senior season, winning Naismith Player of the Year and going No. 2 overall to the Chicago Bulls in 2002.

While he had a fan in MJ, he had unfinished business back at Cameron Indoor Arena.

Williams: This was during a different time in the Duke era. We had just come off ’99 when there was a mass exodus. You didn’t have a consistent nature of players leaving school early. Retrospectively? In today’s game, I would’ve left after a sophomore when we won the chip.

But at the same time, what it did for my brand coming back to school? I was on the cover of every magazine. I was Preseason Player of the Year. Every one of our games was on national TV.

If I was coming back to a team where I was the only guy? That would have been one thing. But I was coming back to a team with Mike Dunleavy, Carlos Boozer, Chris Duhon, and Dahntay Jones. We were absolutely loaded.

Though Williams was high on MJ’s draft board, another All-Star akin to Kobe almost changed the course of DC.

Wilbon: Michael flew Pau Gasol in and worked him out before the draft. Nobody had taken a foreign-born player or a high school guy with the first pick. But it wasn’t automatic that year, the one time the Wizards got the first pick.

Think of how great he would’ve been in the triangle. And he was, obviously.

Williams: Pau would’ve been great. As a scoring guard? The triangle wasn’t built for me to succeed.

But for wings and bigs? The triangle is set for them to succeed with the amount of times they touch [the ball] in the pinch post and the actions that come out of it. It’s perfectly set.

Having Pau Gasol coming from Europe? A lot of guys coming from Europe have basketball IQs that are so advanced. It would’ve been perfectly suited for him.

Playing along Mike, who masterminded it? That would’ve leveraged Pau very quickly.

Wilbon: I remember Michael telling me one time, “Man, this kid from Spain…” I go, “The kid from Spain who looked like Big Bird at the time?” He was like, “Yeah, he’s incredible. He’s very talented.” You go back to knowing what you know now.

Those first few years for Pau weren’t all kisses and candy, but Memphis won 50 games. They were a playoff team. I’m a big Pau guy. It could’ve been so different.

There are a couple of ifs on that one. Jay Williams is my dear friend, but he should’ve taken Pau Gasol instead of Kwame.

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Williams: I was already on course to graduate from Duke in three years and would be the first basketball player to ever do that. But trust me, I think about that moment and the trajectory of my career.

I paid attention to the Wizards and Mike. Going back to school, I started reaching out to a lot of powerful alumni and started to kind of create my own board. Dan Levington was on my board; he did the IPO for Starbucks with Howard Schultz. I was connecting on a very high level. But it was my last year in school, so I had to pay attention to who the worst teams in the league were and where these lottery balls were going.

I wanted to see if I could still go back to Washington or if I’d end up somewhere else.

I got drafted by the Bulls, had Mike’s locker, and had my accident. I wonder what my career would’ve been like if I was under his tutelage and left school early. They took Kwame Brown that year, but I didn’t think there was any doubt that I would’ve been the first pick in that draft going to DC.

Heading into the 2001 NBA Draft, the rising tide of high school standouts far surpassed that of international prospects regarding resumes and public opinion.

Put into an impossible situation, Brown struggled with early expectations but managed to become a valuable veteran, solid starter, and reputable role player throughout his 12-year NBA career.

Michael Jordan Wizards
(Joel Richardson / TWP via Getty Images)

Brown played for seven franchises, with his longest stint coming in DC.

Regardless of expectations, Kwame changed the life of his family and likely played a role in the NBA’s implementation of the age limit. Over his career, he made over $64 million.

Wilbon: Kwame? The league wasn’t ready for it yet. People don’t realize that Kevin Garnett and Kobe were drafted a little lower in the first round. I remember Doug Collins saying, “He’s still got acne. He’s like my kid.”

They were shaking their heads at the time because nobody was ready for him to be plug and play; there was zero chance of that, and that’s still too bad. I still blame the Wizards for that.

Nichols: The Kwame Brown decision stands out as the worst mistake MJ made as an executive, but he did have some incredible physical gifts, and he was projected by draft experts as a top-three pick.

MJ didn’t pluck him out of nowhere; there were plenty of basketball experts who thought he would succeed in the NBA.

The draft is a dicey business. If you end up with a 50% success rate in the draft, you’re a good executive. It’s tough.

That’s a decision I know, for a fact, he would love to have back.

Passing the Torch

Michael Jordan Wizards
(G Fiume / Getty Images)

On April 16, 2003, Michael Jordan played his last NBA game.

The very next day, he hosted the nation’s top talent at the Jordan Brand Classic at the MCI Center.

It was one of many moves Mike made in DC to grow the game, though most were less publicized.

Nyrik Lee (Former Wizards intern, Marketing Director at The Museum DC): Around that time, the Wizards as an organization made an effort to step up their community relations at the rec centers and in the inner city. Just knowing that the GOAT was in your backyard was enough for everybody.

Every gym was more competitive because the one that everybody looks to was here.

We knew from a national perspective that the world was looking at the area because Mike was playing here. So good or bad? Media attention was going to be here. That means it goes to college players and high school athletes.

We’ve always had a rich hoop scene, but Mike being here took the top off to look at us because they had to come here because of him. Now, the media can check out a game at a high school gym because they’re here so much to cover Mike.

The national media being here more brought a whole lot of attention to what was going on here from a grassroots level.

Offering his answer to the McDonald’s All-American Game, the Jordan Brand Classic gave fans from across DC the chance to see the next generation of basketball’s best.

The 2003 offering was both elaborate and prophetic, hosting the same kid from Akron who appeared at Hoops Chicago amid MJ’s private runs as only an underclassman.

In front of MJ at the MCI, an 18-year-old LeBron James dropped 34 points, grabbed 12 boards, and dished out six assists.

Heading into the 2003 NBA Draft Lottery, the Wizards had a 1.4% chance of landing the No. 1 Pick and scooping James.

Instead, they fell to No. 10, selecting Jarvis Hayes and missing out on LeBron or a chance at Carmelo Anthony or Dwyane Wade in the top five.

In due time, both Melo and Wade did business with MJ as Air Jordan athletes. All the while, LeBron remained loved by MJ just the same.

Wilbon: People don’t realize how much LeBron loves basketball. We could argue GOAT shit all we want, but LeBron loves Michael! And vice versa!

There’s been times I picked up the phone, and there’s been something nationally, and Mike’s said, “Get people off LeBron. What’s that about? Leave that kid alone.”

Particularly when he was younger, people don’t realize that all these icons followed Jordan more closely than almost all the rest of us — with real stakes!

Weeks after winning co-MVP at the Jordan Brand Classic, LeBron James signed a record-setting $90 million deal with Nike and declared for the NBA Draft.

In that same span, the Wizards made a move just as newsworthy.

Exit Wounds

Michael Jordan Wizards
(Craig F. Walker / The Denver Post via Getty Images)

In MJ’s two seasons on the court in DC, the Wizards rose to the top three in NBA attendance, including a franchise-record streak of 82 straight home sellouts.

On May 7, 2003, Abe Pollin fired Michael Jordan as team president.

“I agonized over it for days and nights, thinking, ‘What is it that I have to do?'” Pollin told the AP in October 2003. “I’m going to think very hard about these decisions and make the best decisions that I think are best for the franchise.”

Once departed, the team dropped to 21st in fanfare, never touching the top five since.

Haywood: It was shocking. We all thought that once Mike retired, he was going back into that management role. It was a mixed bag of emotions because this is Jordan, and you don’t want to see him done wrong in that aspect.

Certain things were promised to him, and those promises weren’t kept.

Then we start seeing stories in the paper that make it seem like the young guys don’t want Jordan around. You see how they’re trying to put the poison pill in the media.

I saw that as a young player, like, “They would do this to Michael Jordan.” Because the young guys weren’t even in town, who are you talking to?

Brendan Haywood and Kwame Brown can’t run Michael Jordan out of town. This is crazy.

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Wilbon: He should’ve been running the franchise in the capital of the United States. Every time I drive by that building, I think about how differently it should’ve worked out. It should’ve happened.

Haywood: I started reading the articles, and to see how Mike was pushed out the door was the cold business part of the game. Obviously, there was a riff between him and Abe Pollin. They shut that door and never let him back in.

On opening night months after MJ’s exit, free agent signee Gilbert Arenas topped all Wizards at an annual salary of $8.5 million.

Michael Jordan’s reported severance package was valued at $10 million — almost enough to pay the entire Wizards bench.

Reportedly, MJ threw away the check.

Michael Jordan Wizards
(Samantha Sin / AFP via Getty Images)

In 2004, his first year in decades not tied in some shape or fashion to an NBA franchise sans his baseball break, Michael Jordan made $35 million in endorsements alone.

For reference, that’s more than Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, and Allen Iverson made on the court that NBA season.

Even after an ugly exit in DC, Mike was still the most marketable man in basketball.

David Falk (Legendary Agent): Long after he retired, he still had Hanes, he still had Gatorade, and he still had Nike. They were very, very long-term deals. When I made the deals, I never expected he would play competitive basketball for the duration of the deals, and I told that to the companies.

It didn’t matter; his popularity had endured. He was more popular when he retired than most players were at the most successful part of their active careers — and still is.

Garnett: Mike made the league a trillion, and he made Mike a trillion.

Williams: It all started with his main business, which was on the court. His dedication and attention to detail really translated to how he handled a lot of his other stuff. That set the foundation.

Falk: Michael’s unique. There’s no other player who compares to Michael in terms of marketability. I’m not saying there never will be, but there’s never been another player who’s enjoyed his success.

He’s got the Midas touch; whatever he touches turns to gold. He’s just a very astute businessman. Not only is he a great basketball player and an amazing person, but he’s a very astute businessman.

Michael Jordan Wizards
(Oliver Tsang / South China Morning Post via Getty Images)

It wouldn’t be until the 2019-20 NBA Season that any Washington Wizard would make more money in annual NBA salary than MJ made off endorsements the year he left DC.

Still, the appetite for MJ and disappointment around the ending lingered.

Lee: I was in the office seeing fan mail coming … two years later! People were sending mail just hoping somebody read their letter to Michael Jordan.

Nichols: The problem is that he was in no way nearly as dominant as an executive or talent evaluator as a player.

Michael Jordan’s talent evaluation with the Bulls was not his strength. And by the way, that’s OK! You’re Michael Jordan, arguably the greatest player of all time; you don’t have to be one of the greatest talent evaluators of all time.

But if you go into a job where all you do is talent evaluation and management, that’s going to be a problem, and that was a problem with the Wizards.

Wilbon: The fact that it didn’t work? God, it makes me sick to this day because it should have.

Michael was going to run a team; we see that with Charlotte, and Washington is a much greater market than Charlotte. Washington is still untapped as a basketball place.

Hive Mind

In January 1999, Michael Jordan left the game of basketball on top.

In January 2000, he returned to it in a new city and new suite.

By October 2001, the two worlds collided in Wilmington as he came back to basketball while operating as an exec.

Years later, in 2006, all roads converged in Charlotte — just 200 miles away from the site of that first Wizards training camp.

“I’m thrilled to have my friend, Michael Jordan, join me in my business and sports pursuits,” Bobcats owner Bob Johnson said at the time in a release.

Purchasing a minority stake in the Charlotte Bobcats — later the Charlotte Hornets — from an old friend in DC, Mike was back in the ownership game only three years after departing from DC.

Rovell: He had amazing timing. I think he had a hard time believing he could be a general manager because he’s so good and so competitive that he couldn’t fairly evaluate talent without being very critical.

So, ownership was natural. Because he was Michael Jordan, he had to pay an incontestable amount down to get the piece that he got from Bob Johnson. So, he immediately used his name to essentially finance a purchase.

Haywood: Mike was a really good owner. I know that team success wasn’t always there, but you could tell he wanted to win.

He was around, and he was present. Sometimes, he’d be in the training room having conversations with guys trying to get them to understand certain things about business and basketball.

From 2006 to 2010, MJ served as a minority owner in Charlotte and business partner to billionaire Bob Johnson.

“I not only respect Michael for his basketball knowledge and expertise,” said Johnson. “But also for his business skills, particularly in branding and marketing.”

“I’m excited to join Bob and invest alongside one of the most astute businessmen I know,” Jordan said at the time.

Michael Jordan Wizards
(Streeter Lecka / Getty Images)

“I am also looking forward to providing my advice, where needed, to Bobcats’ management in order to put the best possible team on the court,” Jordan said.

After building both fan bases, franchises, and economies in Chicago and DC, Mike was suddenly taking the bull by the horns in Charlotte.

“Our joint venture will allow Michael to invest in private equity, hedge funds, financial services, real estate, film production, and other business interests that my holding company is pursuing,” said Johnson.

Haywood: Everybody always wanted to know, ‘What’s Mike like? What’s his work habits like? Tell me your best Mike story.’ He’s the best player to ever do it, he’s mesmerizing.

He’s the first player to truly be branded in the correct way that made him a sports icon. So, there was always a thousand questions about who Michael Jordan was and what he was doing. I’d tell them the stories I could and keep it at that.

Michael Jordan Wizards
MJ’s ownership timeline

Artest: I would’ve loved to play for Michael Jordan. He’d of probably traded me in a week because I was more stubborn then. He would’ve loved me or had to have gotten rid of me.

If Mike would’ve called me? For sure. Imagine winning a title and playing for MJ. As a kid, that’s things you dream of.

Haywood: He didn’t like losing. Things didn’t work out in Charlotte, but it wasn’t because Mike didn’t care.

When I was playing for Charlotte, there were some dark days because the team wasn’t that good. But he was still around, lending his expertise. At the end of the day, you could tell he still really cared.

After four years, MJ was in pole position to own the Bobcats outright.

In 2010, Michael Jordan bought Bob Johnson’s Bobcats franchise for $275 million.

In 2014, he rebranded the team to its original Hornets hues and nickname.

Six years later, MJ used his equity in Charlotte to not only own the Hornets but also purchase a stake in Richard Petty Motorsports. Teaming with Denny Hamlin, Jordan became a team owner in NASCAR through 23XI Racing.

Located just outside of Charlotte, it’s a big flex for the North Carolina native who used to pull up to private pick-up runs in Chicago matching sports cars to his outfits.

Wilbon: This was going to be his second professional life, which it has been. And we’ve seen Michael in other stuff like racing, whether it was motocross or now high stakes with Bubba Wallace and Denny.

I called him to congratulate him when they won last year, and I couldn’t believe that the phone call had evolved to this place where it’s now racing! But that was not foreign to me because I could see the connection. I’d covered Joe Gibbs, and we had come back he did racing.

Today, Michael Jordan is an icon in sports and business said to be worth $3 billion.

Said to have made Chicago a trillion dollars and brought billions to downtown DC, Mike made good on his investment in Charlotte by selling his share of the Hornets for $3 billion in 2023.

Michael Jordan Wizards
(Jacob Kupferman / Getty Images)

His Hornets sale has offered an ownership lane for those trying to follow his footsteps and set out a blueprint for ballers looking to buy, build, and sell teams.

It’s a testament to the GOAT, not just in the NBA but in regards to ROI.

Rovell: How he did what he did — structured what he did — and how he did it? Eventually, owning the team at the valuation of $275 million at the time and getting in and seeing it grow?

The amazing thing is that it’s possible that he’ll make more from the sale of the Hornets than he will from the Jordan Brand over his lifetime. Perfect timing.

Williams: Frankly? He set the whole template for me. Understanding the story of how his mom helped him with Nike and hearing that story at a young age? It made me think about building enterprise value.

Before I had my accident, everything I wanted to do was around realizing basketball was my platform to build a portfolio company. Mike was the first to do that.

To this day, the Jordan run in Washington, DC, as part owner, president of basketball operations, and starting shooting guard for the Washington Wizards is met with more jeers than cheers.

It’s an asterisk in a spotless resume adorned by NBA championships, scoring titles, MVP trophies, and a billion-dollar brand built under Nike.

“Everyone is going to look at the short-term,” Jordan told The Washington Post in 2003. “People won’t understand.”

Michael Jordan Wizards
(Cheriss May / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

While his squads in DC failed to make the playoffs, MJ never failed to see the opportunities his competitive nature brought him.

“For me, I’m going to look back and say it was fun,” Jordan continued. “It was fun and something no other general manager or president of basketball operations could do. I got a chance to see some old things I used to see, some new things I’d never seen, some young talent, some old talent, so I’m satisfied.”

The “satisfying” stint in Washington built a nightlife economy in the nation’s capital. It set MJ up for full ownership in both basketball and racing, appeasing a competitive thirst that neither Nike royalties nor Gatorade residuals could ever fully quench in “retirement.

Wilbon: The level of competition? It’s his life. The nuances, the finer points? He understands competition probably better than anybody out there with the exception of those that are also doing it at the highest level.

Howard White (Vice President of Jordan Brand): Everybody has a dream, everybody has a goal, but when you’ve fallen that 50th time and your mouth is full of dirt and dust, you can hardly breathe, and your eyes are crying? You still work hard, but that dream dies.

It’s that one that’s willing to get up for the 51st, the 70th, and 80th, and that drive still permeates them. That dream doesn’t go away. Those are the people that people need to follow.

Like MJ says on that poster, “I’ve failed over and over again, and that is why I succeed.”

Larry Miller (Chairman of Jordan Brand): People a lot of times don’t understand how great of a businessman MJ is.

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