LAS VEGAS -- James Bouknight had just wrapped up the tail end of a back-to-back, disappointed with his performance following a rather respectable Las Vegas Summer League debut a night earlier.
As the Charlotte Hornets rookie guard navigated his way through the inner bowels of the Thomas & Mack Center on Monday, completing his postgame duties with the makers of NBA2K and the like, he checked his cell phone. That's when he noticed he had a new message, which might not ordinarily seem like a huge ordeal.
Expect this one was from the team's owner. Yes, Michael Jordan himself.
"He texted me," Bouknight said Thursday. "He texted me and told me to give him a call. He basically critiqued my game and what he saw there. Not many 20-year-olds, first year in the league, can say the best player ever to touch a basketball is calling them, helping them and giving them pointers. So, I took that to heart and I took that personal. And I tried my best to go out there and have a good game."
Jordan's pep talk and discussion, which Bouknight estimated lasted roughly 5-10 minutes, apparently was precisely what Bouknight needed to shake off that rough outing. He posted a team-high 23 points to go along with eight assists in the Hornets' 106-104 loss to San Antonio at Cox Pavilion.
That bounce back performance provided quite the confidence booster for Bouknight, giving him something to feel better about after making 4 of 11 attempts on Monday and turning the ball over five times partially due to the defensive clamps of fellow rookie Davion Mitchell, who was selected by Sacramento two spots ahead of Bouknight.
He's appreciative of Jordan's early guidance.
"I don’t know how hands-on owners or presidents are in other organizations," Bouknight said. "But just to get a text from M.J. is like … Someone who played my position, the greatest to play my position. I’m happy he called me and I’m happy that I'm able to have that type of relationship where we can get on the phone and we can talk about what he saw, how I felt, what I saw, and then apply that to the next game."
There is something definitely unique about that aspect of the Hornets.
"It’s amazing," Hornets assistant coach Dutch Gaitley said. "Michael Jordan is the greatest of all time. For a kid like Bouk, for a kid as young as he is to get a call from the greatest of all time and say, ‘Hey this is what I saw and you can improve,’ I don’t know what that feeling is. But it must be amazing. He obviously carried it over. Now, there’s some stuff we have to still have to grow, but that’s what a young guy is. The fact that he took this big step is huge.
"Now we play a good team coming up on Saturday in Toronto, a physical team defense. Now can he do it again? Can he get eight assists again? Can he get more than eight assists again, and be better defensively? Because that’s where struggled a little bit today. ... But for Bouk, that call he got from M.J. will definitely help him these next two games."
The pair of upcoming outings also provides Bouknight with more time to sharpen his 3-point stroke. He hasn't quite got it going beyond the line yet. He's shooting 25 percent through the first three games and he had a few chances against the Spurs that were wide open. But three of his four attempts caromed off harmlessly.
"I’ve just got to hit those," he said. "Those are easy shots I know I can make. The staff is telling me to keep shooting them. I’m going to stay confident, I’m going to keep shooting them, getting them up. It’s tough. Most of my threes are off the dribble. When I do get those catch-and-shoot ones, I’ve got to be able knock them down. But like I said this is just a good learning experience."
Even with his shot beyond the arc a little off, Bouknight still created a few "oohs" and "ahhs" with his offensive display. He knifed his way through the lane on a couple of occasions to finish at the basket and showed off great court vision with those assists, including one nifty feed through traffic to JT Thor for a fastbreak dunk.
"I can pass the basketball," Bouknight said with a laugh. "People say I can't pass."
“I was just trying to be an-all around guy. I think I had eight assists, zero turnovers. So I was just trying to get everybody involved. We were just tying to win the game. I just went out there and Coach told me to be myself, and that's what I did."