Michael Jordan will be Charlotte’s ambassador to the NBA this weekend. As owner, that doesn’t mean his attention is off a restless Hornets fan base.
During a half-hour media session Tuesday, Jordan acknowledged, “We still have a lot of work to do” in improving the Hornets to a point they could make a deep playoff run.
Jordan rarely does such general media sessions, and reporters were asked to limit questions to the All-Star Weekend, which is Friday through Sunday in Charlotte..
Jordan’s team is 27-29, in seventh place in the Eastern Conference standings. If that holds up through the end of the regular season, the Hornets would qualify for the playoffs for the first time in three years. However, there appears to be a wide gap between the bottom three seeds in the East and the top teams they would face.
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Asked by the Observer how the Hornets are currently perceived, Jordan said:
“It’s still up to us to make this city proud about this team. We’re committed to do that. This weekend is about (All-Star starter) Kemba Walker and (dunk contest participant) Miles Bridges. But once it is over, we still have to look at ourselves about making the city proud about the game of basketball and how we play it on an everyday basis.”
Other Jordan comments Tuesday:
On the excitement surrounding the All-Star Game returning to Charlotte for the first time since 1991:
“It gives me great pleasure, obviously being from North Carolina, that (through) all the hard work between (NBA commissioner) Adam (Silver) and the city, that we’re able to bring the All-Star Game here. Somewhat delayed over the past couple of years (the 2017 game was pulled from Charlotte over the HB2 controversy) . I was here in 1991 when the game was played over on Tyvola (Road), and we’re looking toward bringing that same type of energy back. So far, the energy has been unbelievable from the staff and from the city.
“I think it’s going to be a fun week, no matter what the weather is going to be. I think fans coming here from out of town are going to see what this city is all about and the dedication they have put forth to put on an event such as this in Charlotte.
Did you ever imagine growing up in Wilmington you’d not only own an NBA team but host an All-Star Weekend?
“No. As a kid growing up here in North Carolina, the first thing (was) playing basketball. And then things evolved from there - from the University of North Carolina to Chicago. Obviously, you know the history from that. And then the opportunity to represent North Carolina in an All-Star Game from a different seat is truly amazing. It tells the path that I have taken. It gives me great pleasure to give that back to the community. It’s been a long-traveled road.”
Compare and contrast what All-Star Games were when you played and now
“It is a little different - the players are different - but the idea of showcasing, of playing and representing for the fans is the same. A little different from the voice of today. But fortunately, the passion to play basketball is not different than what it was years ago.”
Any suggestions for Bridges in the dunk contest?
“Have fun. I am looking forward to seeing Miles. He’s a very gifted athlete and basketball player. He’s not just (about) jumping and dunking, there are other aspects to the game. But this is an opportunity to showcase what those talents are and how the fans enjoy that.
I’m expecting some creativity. The dunk contest is very difficult (to come up with something new). We took off from the free-throw line. I don’t expect anybody to take off from the top of the key. But you are going to see a lot of creativity from the young crowd.”
On Walker as a first-time All-Star starter
“It gives me great pleasure because I always believed this kid was an All-Star. He’s proven that three years in a row and now he’s a starter. He represents this city and this team very well.”
On the difference between being the owner hosting an All-Star Game and a player starring in one:
“It’s a lot harder on this side than putting on a uniform and going out and shooting jump shots and taking off from the free-throw line in a dunk contest. But either way, it should be fun.”
On what he’d like visitors to take from this weekend in Charlotte:
“This is a very unique, fun small-town city that everyone would love to come back and visit even when the All-Star Game isn’t here. Those of us who live here understood it to be a unique city/fun place to be. A small city - not New York, not LA, not Chicago. But you can still do a lot of things and meet great people.“
Rick Bonnell: 704-358-5129, @rick_bonnell