Robert Johnson Interview
Here's what Charlotte Bobcats majority owner Robert Johnson said on a conference call about Michael Jordan joining the Bobcats ownership group and now being a part of RLJ business ventures:
Robert Johnson: “First of all, I’d like to thank all of you for joining me. Today at six o’clock, I informed all of the other owners of the Charlotte Bobcats that Michael Jordan has become an investor in the Bobcats, and as a co-owner, will become the managing member of basketball operations on behalf of the Bobcats ownership group. As some of you know, Michael and I have been friends for almost over 17 years, and ever since I have acquired the Bobcats franchise, one of my goals has been to get Michael Jordan to become my partner in operating the team. I don’t think I have to make the case for Michael’s basketball expertise, his knowledge or his competitiveness as a player, and I think those same things exhibited themselves when he was a part owner of the other organization. I am very excited to have a native North Carolinian be a part of the Bobcats and excited to have a friend of mine – who I have absolute confidence in – oversee our basketball personnel decision making process. In addition, I get the added benefit of having Michael get the opportunity to advance with me in other business opportunities outside of basketball. As I informed the other owners when we met, I’m very excited about this and looking forward to Michael joining the very dynamic ownership group that we already have in place as part of the Bobcats organization.”
Q: Did this take two years to evolve or was on the backburner and brought back up?
A: Michael and I have always been friends, and one of the things Michael has always wanted to do – and I’ve always wanted – was to own his own team. Michael has made several attempts to own his own team, and the NBA has been very active in trying to help Michael acquire a team. When that didn’t happen and time passed on, I think Michael saw this as a way to be connected with basketball, do other business pursuits and do something with a friend of his in Carolina where he was born and played ball, and do it with a team that has a fresh, new start. I think all of those things sort of came together in Michael’s mind. I was always there anxious to have Michael come aboard whenever he so chose. I think all the stars aligned at the right time, and I’m very excited to have this happen today and announce to you that he is now part owner of the Bobcats.
Q: What will Jordan’s day-to-day role be?
A: Michael is not a day-to-day employee – he’s not an employee at all. He is an owner who I have given the authority to oversee all of basketball player personnel decisions. He and I just had a conversation with Bernie (Bickerstaff). Bernie will be returning as Head Coach and General Manager and working closely with Michael to make decisions about player personnel and everything associated with the players. Michael will have the authority to make decisions based on the input he gets from Bernie, as any owner of an organization has. Michael now plays that role on behalf of the ownership group.
Q: Does Johnson still own at least 51 percent of the team?
A: I am the Majority Owner of the Charlotte Bobcats, and I will always be the Majority Owner of the Charlotte Bobcats.
Q: Is Jordan paying for his share of the team?
A: We have never given out numbers as to how much individuals have invested in the team. Michael is the second-largest individual shareholder in the team next to myself – individual shareholder, not counting an entity or business. The only way to acquire equity in that is with cash.
Q: What other company interests is Michael seeking outside of the Bobcats?
A: When I left BET, I formed RLJ Companies, and that company invests in hotel real estate, we have a private equity venture, a hedge fund venture and a number of operations in the Caribbean involved in video gaming. We are looking at other business investments – an investment in Charlotte, North Carolina, in something called Rollover Systems. We have a number of businesses that Michael has the opportunity to look at, as well as to bring us deals that he has identified that we might want to partner with him in. It’s a combination of us doing business together in all of our business ventures – sports as well as other related financial services – as well as two friends who have been friends for a long time saying, “Let’s do something fun together, and let’s pool our resources and our talent and hopefully make some money and have some fun.”
Q: Is there any chance of Jordan playing for the Bobcats?
A: There is no chance of Michael playing for the Bobcats.
Q: How visible he will be in his role?
A: I want reiterate – Michael is not an employee of the Bobcats at all. He is an owner like the other owners in the organization. In terms of his commitment to the team, his desire to help make the organization better and help make the organization a success in Charlotte both on and off the court, it will be up to Michael to determine – as it is to the other owners – how much he will be engaged on a day-to-day basis. If you talk to the other owners, you will know that we are very active in utilizing our other owners to help us guide the Charlotte franchise – whether it’s Nelson Schwab or “Skipper” Beck, we really draw on our owners for advice and guidance, and we expect to do that with Michael.
Q: Will Michael be visible with Bernie in making player personnel decisions?
A: Michael is going to take his time and get engaged with Bernie, the organization and the community in a way that he feels helps make the organization better. He is not looking to overshadow anybody right now. He is looking to be the additive in terms of what he brings to the organization. In due time, you will realize as I do, that Michael is one of the most competitive guys you will ever meet – whether it’s on the court or on the golf course. Second, Michael is committed to this organization because he’s put his name out in association with the basketball organization and taken on the responsibility of overseeing the basketball operations in terms of player personnel. And three, he’s made a substantial investment in the team. Of course, he’s from North Carolina, and I’m sure he has a lot of allegiance to coming back to North Carolina as part of the Bobcats, and particularly what it means to the city of Charlotte.
Q: How will the Bobcats best leverage Jordan in terms of marketing or PR opportunities?
A: You don’t do that. Michael is an owner like any other owner. He has a commitment to the companies he invests in as anybody does that invests. He understands that this is both a sport and a business, and he will be actively engaged with his business ability, his connections and his personal skills like any other owner would. You do not leverage Michael Jordan. You don’t need to. He knows what it means to be a part owner and what it takes to make a business successful. He will do what it takes to make this business successful, I assure you, or else he would not have put himself in this public position – to be a part of an organization, particularly one that is brand new and one that is owned by a friend of his in his backyard.
Q: Is Mac Everett becoming part of the organization?
A: Mac has been tremendously helpful to us in terms of helping us develop strategies to develop broader, stronger relations with the Charlotte community. I expect to keep asking Mac for advice as long as he will give it. He was instrumental in helping bring the franchise to Charlotte, and I hope to count on Mac whenever I can for advice and input. I have not offered Mac any specific job.
Q: How did Bernie take the news?
A: Bernie told me, “Bob, I’m a team player. I want to do everything I can to build on the foundation that we have here. I know Michael, and I’m anxious to sit down and talk with him and do what it takes to make it work.” That’s exactly what they did when they had a chat about an hour and a half ago.
Q: How is the decision-making from a player personnel standpoint to be divided between the General Manager and owner/supervisor of player personnel?
A: It’s real simple. Michael is an owner. Bernie is the General Manager and Head Coach. General Managers and coaches report to owners. Michael has the decision-making authority.
Q: Will Jordan be in the draft war room?
A: When I put Michael and Bernie together, they got into it right away. Over the next several days, Bernie will be doing a download on Michael of all the intelligence that he’s gathered about what the team needs, what the pick situation looks like, what has been the result of the workouts they’ve had, any possible trade deals lurking out there – they’re into it now. Michael has a tremendous amount of confidence in Bernie’s insight, and Bernie has a lot of confidence in the advice Michael is going to bring to him. Absolutely, he is going to be fully briefed and ready to aid Bernie in making the best decisions possible when it comes to draft.