A photo caption accompanying an article Thursday on Michael Jordan's deal to join the Washington Wizards incorrectly identified George Stamas, one of the Wizards' minority partners, who sat with Jordan and minority partner Jonathan Ledecky at the Wizards-Mavericks game. (Published 01/22/2000)
Michael Jordan set the tone for his new job as president of basketball operations and part owner of the Washington Wizards yesterday, saying he would answer only to majority owner Abe Pollin, that his influence would be felt throughout the organization and that "until we get ourselves on track everybody is disposable."
Jordan, 36, finalized a five-year deal early yesterday morning that gives him responsibility of transforming the Wizards, who have not won a playoff game in 12 years, into a winner.
"I'm going to have my imprints and footprints all over this organization," said Jordan, who will commute between Washington and his home in Chicago. "I look forward to turning this thing around. Right now we're an underachieving team."
Although he put the entire franchise on notice, Jordan also said that Wes Unseld will remain general manager and Susan O'Malley will continue as CEO and president of business operations.
The deal, which took five months to complete, requires a significant investment by Jordan and gives him a share of equity that could increase to 20 percent when Pollin, 76, decides to sell. Jordan bought his stake in the team from Lincoln Holdings, the group led by America Online executive Ted Leonsis. Lincoln Holdings owns 44 percent of the Wizards, MCI Center and US Airways Arena and all of the National Hockey League's Washington Capitals.
Jordan is the third black minority owner in the NBA--former superstar Magic Johnson owns a small piece of the Los Angeles Lakers; Edward and Bettiann Gardner are part owners of Jordan's former team, the Chicago Bulls. But Jordan's share, if it grows to the expected 20 percent, would give him a more substantial piece of an NBA team than any other black owner, a source said.
"This is new to me," said Jordan, whose duties will include drafting, trading and signing players and hiring and firing coaches. "Being in charge is something that I never had an opportunity to do. Maybe that's not the ingredient that may turn this team around. Then again, it may be. That's the beauty of trying.
"I won't be wearing the Wizards' uniform. I have an attitude about the way I play. I have an attitude about the way I win, and my job and responsibility with this organization is to see if I can pass it on to the players in that uniform."
Lincoln Holdings has the right of first refusal to purchase the team when Pollin sells. Pollin, who has owned this team since 1964, retains majority ownership and reiterated again yesterday that he has no plans to give up his stake in the near future.
"He makes everybody better," Pollin said of Jordan, who led the Bulls to six NBA championships. "He's a fierce competitor. He will not accept losing. He's going to get the best out of everybody. And that's why I've turned the basketball operations over to him."
Jordan, who grew up in North Carolina and attended college at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, had tried to purchase the Charlotte Hornets several months ago, but the deal fell through. He also has been mentioned as a potential owner for the Milwaukee Bucks, Denver Nuggets and Vancouver Grizzlies. NBA Commissioner David Stern prompted his interest in owning a team, but Jordan said yesterday that the decision to get involved in the hands-on, day-to-day operation of a team was a relatively new aspiration.
"A lot of it had to do with the relationships I had with the people on this podium," Jordan said. "Ted and Abe being generous enough to allow me to make decisions based on basketball. It's a great city. I've spent a lot of time here. It's the closest thing to North Carolina besides Charlotte."
Shortly after purchasing the Capitals and a share in the Wizards last July, Leonsis arranged for a meeting with Jordan that included fellow minority partners Jon Ledecky and George Stamos and Jordan's agent, David Falk. The discussions were solely about ownership but Jordan inquired about having input on basketball decisions.
A second meeting was arranged in November in New York with Falk, Jordan, Leonsis, Stamos and Falk's partner, Curtis Polk. In December, Leonsis brought Jordan and Pollin together. Jordan subsequently had dinner at Pollin's house, where further progress was made about Jordan joining the team.
Jordan and Pollin eventually agreed that Jordan would join the team as president of basketball operations, then went about working out the ownership portion with Leonsis and his partners.
Leonsis "was instrumental in making this happen," Pollin said. "Without Ted, it would not have happened. Ted was the guy that started all this. Ted was the guy who contacted Michael in the beginning."
The newfound relationship allowed Pollin to bring Jordan in just one step below him--and above Unseld--in the Wizards' chain of command, but Jordan said he intends to work in concert with Unseld.
"There's been a lot of stories that have said Wes is going to get kicked to the curb, not have any input with the team, and that's not the case," Jordan said. "I've always respected players that have played before me. . . . If it wasn't for them, the league wouldn't have been my platform to excel."
With the Wizards 12-28 and in last place in their division, the status of Coach Gar Heard and some of Washington's players seems more uncertain.
"If everyone is looking over their shoulders making sure their necks don't get chopped off, that's good--you go out there and do your job," Jordan said. "If any players are worried about being traded, go out there do your job and you won't have to worry about it. If Gar is worried about what's going to happen, he's going to go out and do his job. I'm not saying I'm going to fire Gar Heard. I'm going to evaluate everybody."
Countered Heard: "You have to have chemistry. You have to have a lot of talent but you have to have a lot of chemistry. Maybe we don't have that chemistry. . . . If I don't win games, if I don't get the team playing up to their capabilities, he has the right to bring somebody else in."
Jordan's considerable power as a drawing card was in evidence yesterday. His late-afternoon news conference drew the largest media gathering at MCI Center since the arena opened a little more than two years ago.
Last night, he watched from Pollin's box, with President Clinton at his side, as his new charges lost to the Dallas Mavericks, 104-86.
O'Malley, whose duties include trying to increase the team's flagging attendance, said the Wizards sold about 200 season-ticket packages before yesterday's news conference even began.
"The rumor has been building all week and we have been selling seats," she said.
"We haven't been selling a lot for tonight. But, what we have been selling are season tickets. A couple of hundred today. Who knows tomorrow when they believe it? We expect a big hit."
District Mayor Anthony Williams said Jordan's arrival will have a positive effect on the entire city.
"This clearly is a big day in our city," he said. "We have someone here who not only is a great athlete, but he can show our children what it means to be an executive as a role model. Show what it means to make a commitment like it already has. It really is going to electrify our city."
CAPTION: Michael Jordan listens to Wizards minority partners Raul Fernandez, left, and Jonathan Ledecky during the Wizards-Mavericks game.
CAPTION: Former NBA star Michael Jordan greets Lynn Leonsis, wife of Ted Leonsis (left), who holds share of the Wizards, during news conference at MCI Center. Irene Pollin, wife of club owner Abe Pollin, is second from right.
CAPTION: District Mayor Anthony Williams, second from right, joins, from left, Ted Leonsis, Abe Pollin and Michael Jordan at MCI Center. Said Williams: "This clearly is a big day in our city. . . . It really is going to electrify our city."