The NBA has signed off on Michael Jordan’s bid to buy the Charlotte Bobcats, and commissioner David Stern expects the league’s board of governors to approve the $275 million purchase by the end of next week.
In an interview with The Associated Press on Friday, Stern said he expects the vote to pass “very easily.” Jordan will become the first ex-player to own an NBA team and the second black majority owner. He’ll replace the first, Bob Johnson, who has lost tens of millions of dollars annually.
“He considers himself a North Carolina native and he’s quite anxious to make this team into an important part of the community,” Stern said. “I think he has the capacity and the will to do that. I think he’s the right majority owner at the right time.”
Stern said the league updated its background and financial checks on Jordan and found nothing to stop the deal. Stern said the six-time NBA champion is the sole investor in the ownership group for now, but expects him to try to find local partners.
Jordan is putting up all the cash in the deal, which is for less than the $300 million Johnson paid for the expansion franchise that began play in the 2004-05 season.
“I think it’s fair to say he can afford it,” Stern said.
The deal includes taking on more than $150 million in debt, covering future losses and putting millions more in capital to make improvements. The Bobcats are expected to lose about $30 million this season.
“There is going to be assumptions of debt, other obligations and infusions of cash to make sure the team can compete and continue this turnaround,” Stern said.
Jordan has declined interview requests, saying through a team spokesman he’ll speak once he’s approved as owner.
The 47-year-old NBA superstar has been a part-owner of the Bobcats and has had the final say on all basketball decisions since 2006. It was a return home for Jordan, who grew up in Wilmington, N.C., and led North Carolina to the national championship before winning five league MVP awards with the Chicago Bulls.
The deal means the end of a money-losing run for Johnson, the founder of Black Entertainment Television who saw the value of the team decline. The Bobcats have struggled to sell tickets and secure sponsorships since the NBA returned to Charlotte following the Hornets’ departure to New Orleans in 2002.
“I have no doubt it can become successful again,” Stern said, referring to NBA’s presence in Charlotte. “And I think that given Michael’s determination and his business skills, that the turnaround that has begun as a business matter will continue very much so. Not simply on his watch, but driven by him.”
He struck a deal with Johnson just before midnight on Feb. 26, when his exclusive window to buy the team would have expired. Johnson would have been free to sell the team to a group led by George Postolos, a former Houston Rockets executive. Postolos likened it to Jordan hitting another last-second shot.
Now, Jordan will take on a new role in a post-playing career that’s included his own line of apparel through Nike and other businesses.
Jordan had kept a low profile in Charlotte since buying into the team. But he’s been more visible since the deal was announced, sitting courtside next to the Bobcats’ bench for recent home games.
“Does it mean as much to him as it does to some of the fans?” said Max Muhleman, who heads Charlotte-based Private Sports Consulting. “The only thing that’s been questioned is his interest in the job, literally the hours he puts in, the times he’s present, the times he’s away, and whether it’s a full-time commitment or not.
“Is our team just another one of his ventures along with golf and restaurants and the other things, or is this the most important thing in his business life? Can we trust him to do everything we can to give us a great team and a great experience?
Many of Jordan’s friends and confidants are convinced Jordan will do everything he can to make it work.
“Michael brings a familiarity to that community and perhaps can help get some people in the seats,” said Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson, who coached Jordan in Chicago.
“I think Michael will be a great owner,” Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said. “He will do all he can to push the Bobcats to be a winner on the court and at the box office. It’s going to be great to see MJ yelling at a Bobcats game.”
Stern has met with Jordan and said he’s eager to start.
“He has confirmed that he’ll do whatever it takes to make this club a community asset,” Stern said, “He’ll spend whatever time is necessary to cause that to happen. I have no doubt about it.”