Charlotte Bobcats Ownership Transfers to Legend and Local Son Michael Jordan
Bob Johnson’s ownership of the Bobcats team was rocky from the beginning. Since he paid the NBA $300 million for the expansion franchise in 2003, the founder of Black Entertainment Television hasn’t come close to turning a profit because of poor attendance, lagging sponsorship sales and a failed attempt to start a regional sports television network.
The team’s attendance averaged just over 14,000 per game and ranked 26th of 30 NBA teams last year.
There has also been some talk that the Mississippi native who does business up and down the Atlantic seaboard has also suffered in Charlotte because he lacks roots in the community. If that is the case, the Bobcats team will benefit from the new leader of the ownership team, Michael Jordan. Minutes before his exclusive negotiating window expired, Jordan struck a deal to take over the money-losing team in his home state.
Johnson’s net worth is currently estimated at $550 million by Fortune magazine. He was the founder of the BET network and before the recent economic downturn was noted for being the first African American billionaire when Viacom purchased BET for $3 billion in 2003, including Johnson’s 63 percent stake. That same year he became the first African American principal owner of a North American major sports franchise (not including Negro League baseball teams) when he purchased the Bobcats team.
The sale puts Jordan, the biggest basketball star of his generation, in charge of a 6-year-old team that’s never made the playoffs, has struggled to win over fans and has more than $150 million in debt.
Can it work?
“If he’s going to be an absentee owner, just like Bob was, it’s not going to work,” Felix Sabates, a NASCAR team owner who also holds a minority stake in the Bobcats told the Associated Press. “I think if Michael makes a commitment and shows dedication, he can be very successful. He’s a big icon in this part of the country.”
Former Houston Rockets executive George Postolos, who had an ownership group together to buy the team before Jordan swooped in at the last minute, thinks the deal shows Jordan really wanted the team.
“It’s a very substantial part of his net worth,” Postolos said. “He’s very, very committed.”
If Johnson had to let the team go, then Charlotte resident and best-selling author Omar Tyree says Michael Jordan is the ideal buyer. “The best case scenario is to continue to have a man of color own a major American sports team in the era of Obama,” reminds Tyree, in an interview with Suite101.com. “We need to have that to inspire more African American ownership, and be a part of the bigger business opportunities that typically pass us by.”
Jordan’s $275 million bid for the team was formally approved by the NBA Board of Governors on March 18. With his recent acquisition of the team, Jordan hopes to lead the team in a new direction. “I plan to make this franchise an organization that Charlotte can be proud of, and I am committed to doing all that I can to achieve this goal,” Jordan said.
NBA Commissioner David Stern is pleased to have Jordan as owner of the Bobcats team. “We are pleased that Michael Jordan’s purchase of majority ownership of the Bobcats was approved by the NBA’s Board of Governors and closed in such a smooth and expeditious fashion. We look forward to the continued growth of the Bobcats, on and off the court, under his leadership.”
The first order of business will be to see if the Bobcats qualify for the NBA playoffs this season for the first time. In the NBA, success on the court can take care of other problems rather quickly.
Hirsch is a contributing writer for Regal Black Men’s Magazine.