Michael Jordan is reportedly in “serious talks” to sell his majority stake in the Charlotte Hornets, which would conclude one of the worst ownership tenures in NBA history in terms of wins and losses. ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith, however, views Jordan’s run as an NBA owner through a different lens.
Purchasing the Hornets has been a great financial investment for Jordan, who acquired a majority interest in the team for $275 million in 2010. The franchise is now estimated to be worth $1.7 billion. But with just two playoff appearances in 12 years, Jordan’s tenure (if it does indeed come to an end here) will hardly be deemed a success on the court.
Friday morning on ESPN’s First Take, however, Smith defended Jordan’s ownership tenure from the widespread criticism.
“He is such a superstar, such an iconic figure throughout the years, I don’t think he’s ever had the freedom of just being an owner and hiring folks just to make basketball decisions,” Smith said. “Because he is who he is, trust matters so much that getting the right person in there is second to having people you can trust. And that’s always been a very, very difficult proposition for him, which is what I think gets in the way sometimes of having better people within the organization.
“He’s got some good people within the organization, but he’s had some challenges obviously, and I think that’s played a significant role in some of the struggles. So I like the idea of another owner coming in and taking a majority stake. Michael Jordan could still have a minority stake in the franchise, still profit from it, but at the same time leave that stuff to some other folks.”
What’s interesting about Smith’s assessment of Michael Jordan as an NBA owner is that it essentially echoes what Charles Barkley said more than a decade ago.
“I think the biggest problem has been I don’t know if he has hired enough people around him who he will listen to,” Barkley said in 2012 on ESPN 1000’s Waddle & Silvy. “One thing about being famous is the people around you, you pay all their bills so they very rarely disagree with you because they want you to pick up the check. They want to fly around on your private jet so they never disagree with you. I don’t think Michael has hired enough people around him who will disagree.”
Like Smith, Barkley highlighted Jordan’s immense fame, noting that it forces the Hornets majority owner to be particular about who he hires around him. Barkley, however, presented it as a criticism of Jordan, while Smith managed to spin the same opinion into a defense of Jordan.
According to Barkley, that statement ruined his friendship with Jordan, something he now considers to be the biggest fallout of his media career. The more media-savvy Smith crafted a similar take in a way that will help him maintain a relationship with Jordan, assuming he forewarned him before going on First Take.
Jordan, who is currently the only Black majority owner of a major North American sports franchise, is reportedly seeking to sell his interest in the Hornets to minority stakeholder Rick Schnall.