Beyond-bad Bobcats make you wonder: What happened to MJ?
Like many sports teams, the Charlotte Bobcats are caught in an argument between haters and homers. One group thinks the Bobcats are one of the worst teams in NBA history. Those are the homers. The haters think the Bobcats have been losing on purpose so they can get the No. 1 pick in the draft. The homers say "No, that's not fair. They really do suck this bad. They're not trying to suck; they just suck at trying."
The Bobcats are 7-56 now, losers of 20 straight and on track to earn to the league's worst winning percentage in history (.106). And since the Bobcats clinched the worst record in the league a while back, I think it's fair to say that if they WERE tanking, they aren't tanking anymore, unless this is some perverse version of running up the score.
This is the year of a packed 66-game schedule, of three games in three nights, of five games in seven nights, of coaches coaching to avoid overtime because their players are exhausted, of players seeing "DALLAS" on opposing jerseys and being confused because they thought they were in San Antonio. Everybody has flat nights, even more than normal. The entire schedule has been built so nobody loses 20 games in a row. Yet the Bobcats have done it, and the 20th loss may have been their most impressive: a 26-point home defeat to the 21-43 Kings.
If you didn't know, you would never believe it: The man in charge of this operation is the greatest competitor in basketball history. I want to grab Michael Jordan by the shoulders, shake him and ask:
When Jordan was a player, he would cut your lungs out, just so he could catch some fresh air. This is what separated him from the rest of the basketball world, both in his playing days and in our minds. Sure, he was a breathtaking athlete. But there have been a lot of great athletes in the NBA. He was incredibly skilled, but that wasn't what defined him. Jordan was better because he was built from different material. He had the will of Kobe Bryant without the selfish streak, the talent of LeBron James with 10 times as much self-assurance.
Jordan scored 63 points on the Celtics when doctors wanted him to rest as he recovered from a broken foot. He beat the Jazz in the NBA Finals when he had a stomach flu. He scored 55 points at Madison Square Garden after coming out of retirement, when he was still not in basketball shape, because it was Madison Square Garden and he was Michael Jordan and that is just what he did.
And look at him now. Jordan has been the worst kind of owner. He pays attention when he feels like it. He hires his cronies. (Rod Higgins, who works in the Bobcats' front office, was one of Jordan's first Bulls teammates. Even Larry Brown was a fellow member of the Tar Heel mafia, though at least Brown was a great coach.) He complains about the cost of doing business, like he thought he was buying a convenience store instead of an NBA team.
Owners are fans with money. Some days, Jordan has been the guy who buys season tickets and leaves in the third quarter. On other days, he has literally been the guy who practices with the team because he feels like it.
The Bobcats are worse than bad. They are cheap. They are boring. They have a retread coach (68-year-old Paul Silas), and very little hope on the roster. Their leading scorer, Corey Maggette, is 32. The rest of the team is young, which is the hope that teams sell when they don't have hope.
They are supposed to be building around two rookies, but you need a whole lot of faith to see Bismack Biyombo or Kemba Walker as a superstar. The Bobcats traded up for the seventh pick in the 2011 draft so they could pick Biyombo, who is shooting 49 percent. No, not from the field. From the free-throw line. Biyombo is supposed to be the next Ben Wallace. Well, we'll see.
The Bobcats used the ninth pick to take Walker. He was a wonderful college player at Connecticut, and he will have a nice NBA career, but you can't build a contending NBA team around Kemba Walker. They should have used the No. 7 pick on Brandon Knight, who went No. 8 to Detroit. Knight may or may not turn out to be a star. But he is taller, younger and is shooting better from three-point range (37.6 percent) than Walker is shooting from everywhere (37.1 percent).
Jordan has been Charlotte's majority owner for only two years, but he was part-owner and "Managing Member of Basketball Operations" for four before that. This debacle is his. The Bobcats are Jordan's Folly, proof that no matter who you are or how high you rise, at some point life will step on your head.
The NBA is invested in Jordan in so many ways. He is the game's most famous player, a minority owner, an expansion-team baron, a global icon and an enormous cultural influence. Jordan represents so many conflicts of interest, but the NBA doesn't really care about that. If Jordan wins, the NBA wins.
If you had told me Jordan would be a bad owner, I would have understood. I could have seen him as Daniel Snyder or young George Steinbrenner, showing no patience, demanding too much of the wrong people, spending money recklessly, changing direction three times a day.
But this ... this I can't believe.
I don't know what Jordan thinks when he watches this mess. Maybe he dreams about getting Anthony Davis with the top pick. Maybe he tells himself he hasn't been an owner for very long, and this will get better. Maybe he wishes he had been nicer to his old general manager with the Bulls, Jerry Krause, who gave him Phil Jackson, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman and enough other surrounding pieces to win six championships, and got mocked by Jordan every step of the way
Maybe Jordan is just happy to be Michael Jordan. Maybe he feels detached from the whole thing. But I have to believe that in some moments, as the greatest player ever watches one of the worst teams ever, he thinks to himself: