On Wednesday, for the first time in 4,970 days, the Charlotte Hornets will play a game without quarterback Michael Jordan. It will be the end of a franchise era where the most famous basketball player not only leads the team with him. When the NBA’s Board of Governors approved the sale of the Hornets to a team led by Rick Schnell and Gabe Plotkin this summer, the transaction ended Jordan’s 13-year tenure at the helm of the Hornets, although he remained a minority owner. .
It wasn’t a prosperous season for the Hornets, despite winning the first possession and the last. Charlotte won 41.7 percent under Jordan and made the playoffs just three times, including the season Jordan took over. The Hornets underwent a name change — the franchise was still known as the Charlotte Bobcats when Jordan bought them in 2010 — and five coaching changes.
But Jordan was persistent. He was once the face of the NBA as a star player, and he was almost the face of the Hornets when he was there.
“I know Win and Lose wasn’t what everyone wanted, but it touched a lot of people. I think it goes beyond wins and losses…” said Ramon Sessions, who played for the Bobcats from 2012-14 and the Hornets from 2016-17. “We’ve had so many different events, different things that we do in the community. It’s been all kinds of different events that we’ve done for all the families in Charlotte for a big turkey drive that’s just kind of touching the community. It’s not like partnering with a big company that’s going to do it. I think it’s really cool in the community. There were a lot of things that were really involved. And when he passed that thing out there… he was there. That’s Michael Jordan, he shouldn’t have done that.”
As the Hornets get drafted for the first time in more than a decade, The Athletic spoke to 12 former players to find out what it was like to play for the Bobcats and Hornets under Jordan, and get one. As a boss, the most famous people in the world.
Jordan has been a minority investor in the franchise since 2006 under Bob Johnson, the team’s principal owner. He has the final say on basketball decisions. In the year On March 17, 2010, the franchise became his and the Jordan era officially began.
“I plan to be involved in this business,” Jordan told Bobcats.com that day. “For me, there is a personal aspect to owning this team. Carolina is where I do this, and it’s always been home to me, and basketball is my major. I’m also the first player to be the primary owner of a team, which gives me an ownership perspective unlike anyone else in the league.
Everyone who played for the organization under Jordan seems to remember their first encounter with Jordan. His mere presence was intriguing and players’ attention drifted his way when he was around.
Sessions: Growing up in the 90s, I was the biggest Bulls fan there could be. He was the guy who made the game look so fun. When I was 8, 9, 10, I wanted to be in the NBA because of Michael Jordan. Then you have to be able to play for him and as an adult, get him, pinch yourself.
Cody Zeller (Bobcats/Hornets center, 2013-21): Everyone calls him Michael. I am asking this question to clarify. What do we call it? Everyone calls him Michael.
Gerald Henderson (Bobcats/Hornets guard, 2009-15): When that happened, Bob Johnson was the majority owner; We didn’t see him until then. I know him because we live in the same apartment. He wasn’t around. We knew Michael was there. That was the only owner we cared about from a basketball perspective. He was very local. He was the majority owner in our minds.
Nicolas Batum (Hornets forward, 2015-20): When I got traded, I got a call, “Hey, this is MJ.” (Silence while looking at this phone) What? I was shocked. I talked to MJ. I’m on my phone. He called me. I grew up a Bulls fan. A child of the 90s. So I grew up – Scotty was my idol but MJ, of course he’s MJ. Being in the same organization and seeing him every day and getting to know him was amazing.
Caleb Martin (Hornets forward, 2019-21): My favorite memory is probably the first time I came down from Exhibition 10 and signed a three-year deal and came back down, because we had like a gala or a gala. Something like that, and I think I’m going to go back down and I run when Mitch (Kupchak) goes back down. It’s my first time meeting him. And, I just signed my contract and met MJ, it was crazy. I’m on a high now. It was very beautiful. Then I went to get some wine. So I was like have a good night, you know what I mean. I was good.
Terry Rozier (Hornets guard, 2019-present): The first time I talked to him was around the time of the trade, but the first time I met him was in Vegas. He went to Aria, had lunch. It was dope. Great experience. I ordered the same thing he did. Just salad. I didn’t want to order anything else.
Willy Hernangomez (Hornets center, 2018-20): I was walking into a cold pool with a towel. I was just in my headphones. I saw an older man on the left looking at me. So I was just like walk away and then I’ll go back. I was like, “Oh, pick it up.” I don’t know what to do. So at first he came to me speaking Spanish. We just chat a little bit. It was amazing. When he left I called my mom, like “I met MJ.”
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (Bobcats/Hornets forward, 2012-20): The moment I was drafted, he made it seamless that he missed just one call, and I really respected that and I respect that.
Cody Martin (Hornets forward, 2019-present): My rookie year it came down to one of our practices. He sat down at one of our experiences. That was the first time I met him and it was weird because it’s different when you see a person and when you see this person. Like I said, he’s iconic. And then to see him and meet him in person, he’s a great guy. Talk to him, and he’ll give you pointers. And other times he wasn’t happy with our performance as a team. So it’s good to see that side too. you know what i mean? At least we weren’t playing the way we could have as a team for that game; Only he had some words with us; But he is what we want. Like he was giving us a spark.
Caleb Martin: I had a good game once and got a random text. And I’m reading it – it didn’t have the number because I didn’t have the number – and it’s like “good game” message, blah blah, and at the bottom it’s like “MJ”. I’m like ‘O S–T’. I think it’s someone else texting him. I would text him right back and he would text me back. Indeed he is.
Zeller: When he was in the building, whether it was a practice or a game, everybody knew. It was never normal. He was never like another man. I don’t think I’ve been beaten by a lot of people, but everyone wants to put their best foot forward when they’re in the building. Practices or games were probably a bit more or guys trying to impress MJ while he was in the building playing with a little touch.
Sessions: In Charlotte, they were sitting on top. So practically everyone is always looking up to see if they’re in there or not. To see if he’s watching.
Caleb Martin: You practice and you don’t know he’s there, and you hear whispers of, “Oh, MJ here, MJ here today, MJ.” You look up, he’s sitting there watching practice. And then sometimes you can find him in court and talk to him a little. He is a really talented guy.
Devonte Graham (Hornets guard, 2018-21): When you see his car in the parking garage, you know it’s there. So even if he doesn’t look upstairs, he’s always in tune with what’s going on.
Hernangomez: When he saw us, he was talking sometimes, yelling at us that we should do better. He was really into the team and when you thought he wasn’t there, or even when he wasn’t looking at you, he found someone to look at you.
Batum: It’s very close to the players. People ask him things. When you see MJ, you see the greatest MJ of all time, he’s untouchable, but when you’re in the locker room with him or behind closed doors, he’s a normal guy. I mean he is. He is probably the greatest athlete who ever lived.
Jordan, especially early in his tenure, was on hand. It makes itself accessible to players. Occasionally, he reminded them why he was, in fact, the greatest player of all time.
Henderson: We’ve been kicking our ass for a week. I will come to the training room the next morning. I had to get my stuff out of the way because I was a beginner and he’s laying in there and he’s got practice gear. “What are you going to do, man?” I told him. “I’ll come over there and kick his ass,” he said. He’s in there no matter how long he talks.
He comes there and enters into our fear. He jumped to our second group. Our first team started that year with the likes of Stephen Jackson, Gerald Wallace, Ray Felton and – who? – Boris Dayau In our second group it was me, Derrick Brown, DJ Augustine, maybe Tyrese (Thomas) and someone else. He looked like Prime Michael Jordan without his quickness and leaping ability. But it was all MJ’s work. Talking mediates the whole time.
He continued to go back and forth with Stephen Jackson. Jack at that time was just like the border of the stars. He was great during the season and I think he was talking about how he should be a superstar in the media. I bet Jack went to the basket and shot and the coaches didn’t call a foul. Jack yells, “Yo, that’s a disaster.” This and that.
MJ came down and hit the game winner. The game is over and Jack is still talking, “That’s wrong.” “The MFer has never been an all-star, but he wants all-star calls,” Jordan said. We were like, “Oh, s–t. Oh, that was a little harsh.”
Stephen Jackson is one of the nicest dudes you’ll ever meet. He gets a bad rap from things that happened in his career. Like one of the toughest dudes you’re gonna meet and one of the funniest dudes you’re gonna meet. So after MJ said that, there was like a moment of silence, Jack said, “Oh yeah, I’ve never been a star but I’ve made a lot of star asses.”
Sessions: When I was first there, he was around a lot. He would come into action. After the coach spoke, he would come in and talk to us about basketball. He tries to joke around and you know, play with different things like one-on-one, two-two-two, with the team. So it was always nice to have him with someone.
Garrett Temple (Hornets Guard, 2011). He couldn’t play – and he came over at the end of the film session and we talked. He talked to us about his expectations from the team. Even though we get injured guys and do some business, we still have to go out and compete. do you know? No one in the court. So that really stuck with me. In his eyes, he had a view that, come on, fellas, whoever plays, we have to play to build a kind of culture here.
Henderson: We got our ass kicked by Celtic once. This is when they have the Big 3 and their championship team. They came in on Friday and we just nodded. The entire arena was filled with Boston fans. I’m not sure I played that much that night – you might add. I was the first one back in the locker room and he was standing in the middle of the locker room. You could tell he was pissed and rightfully so.
On the board, I think it says “(Expletives) scared as f—.” Here’s how the game looks from my review. They came out, big atmospheric game, and we looked soft. We let them push us. KG was there accusing everyone, insulting our fans. Kendrick Perkins is haunting us. And that’s what happened. He got angry seeing that. He went in there and insulted everyone. Then we brought it up. Larry Brown was the coach at the time, so I don’t think he even had to say anything.
Sessions: Him and MKG, obviously Mike always said, “Listen man, it’s not that much of a move. Here we stay in one or two places. He always said, “I’m sure I’ll play you – he’s not running, that’s not fair – so I can play you with a dribble or two.” He is competitive.
Kidd-Gilchrist: People think I played 1-on-1 with him, it wasn’t a real game. We didn’t play well. Did he teach me some things? Definitely, definitely.
Hernangomez: Sometimes he would shoot with us. Sometimes he does things like shooting competitions. He was shooting with the team and talking about s–t with the team, so it was funny. I remember Malik Monk talking to MJ, “You can’t shoot now”. And he was still getting buckets.
Malik Monk (Hornets guard, 2017-2021): He just told me he could shoot better than me. Which is not true. It is not true at all. At that time he said for sure.
Zeller: It was good that he didn’t get involved, but you could tell that everything that came out of his mouth was competitive, whether it was a football game on TV or talking about someone else around the league. That’s all you hear. He definitely is.
Caleb Martin: He would text me and my brother after the game and sometimes he would send me things and he would get right back to you. I’m sitting here saying he’s one of the busiest people in the world and he’ll get back to you.
Graham: We were at a little dinner where the ticket holders and stuff like that were coming. And we’ve all been talking about things like Dwayne Bacon and they need to post more and do more post-level moves. And I was like, “Yeah, I’ve got to post more.’” He was like, “Nah, you stick your little ass behind the 3-point line.
Hernangomez: He comes to me before the game, “Willie, I want you to grab more than 12 rebounds today. If not, I’ll be disappointed.” So he was challenging me. But it was amazing.
Henderson: I think because I played his position, once I got into the team as a rookie, he was very hands-on and showed up at practice and stuff and we texted a lot. I remember doing a film session or two with him and meeting with him about his expectations. He would text me after games. He used to watch games and was very attentive and focused on my results. He was paying attention. He was taking care of him.
Monk: My experience with the Hornets was up and down because we were trying to figure out what we were going to do, what direction we were going to take. But the times I was around Mike, they were fun. It says a lot. He talks a lot of s–t. But I like it. Super competitive. And he is easy to talk to. You can tell him something, especially if you are in the group. He doesn’t look down, he doesn’t say something crazy to you, he doesn’t answer you. He always answers.
Cody Martin: He helped me work the gyms during the summer. It’s worth it if you get it.
Hernangomez: He was sitting next to the bench and I was at the free throw line, I started focusing. “Willie, how many rebounds did you get?” I turn around. “I told you 10” to be more readily available with motivation as perhaps.
Henderson: He asked me what my game plan was when I was playing against another very good defenseman or another very good scorer. And I gave them all these probably very casual good player answers and he just shot me down. He said: “Look, when you play a good defender, the first thing you should think about is to put him on the bench because he can’t defend from the bench, and a good scorer can’t score goals either.” A bench. So he put them in bad trouble. You can go out there and compete and do all those things, but you have to think about getting to the bench as quickly as possible and getting to the free-throw line as quickly as possible.
He’s like, “You’re an 80 percent free-throw shooter. Those are easy points.” He’s like, if you think you can average 16 points a game, that’s only four points in a quarter. You know, you do everything you do, well just do those things and score four points in a quarter and make it very easy.
Zeller: Sometimes it is placed in a collection; Sometimes he sits on the bench next to the players. I think sometimes he just goes down there to yell at the refs. I think he might have an influence on them too. He wasn’t just yelling at them, they were responding to him and telling them what changes they needed to make or what they missed.
Monk: It will hurt you. They don’t care. Whatever he says, they say the opposite.
Caleb Martin: He talks non-stop.
Henderson: He was around a lot. Based on my conversations with guys around the team, from the team I started with and now years later, so much more. He was very hands on early in my career, showing practices, sitting next to the bench during games. I think he grew out of it over time. I’m not exactly sure why.
Sessions: It’s funny though because my second (time) goes into the suites and I don’t go down there much. My freshman year, oh yeah, he was right there at the end of the seat. It wasn’t on the bench, but it was like at Golden State, they got those seats right next to the bench, like that. He was sitting there. If you’re sitting at the end, oh yeah, you’re sitting next to the mic. I have never sat at the end. I always sat next to the coaches. It didn’t go away at the end of this.
Batum: He was a player and is still a player inside. Some things never change.
In Charlotte, it became common for players to wear not only Nike sneakers, but Jordan Brand shoes. That makes sense since the name owns the team. Many players believe that they have a deal with Jordan Brand, just because they play for Jordan. It was also an example of what endeared Jordan to players, who appreciated the humanity of a man who often seemed larger than life.
Zeller: I think it’s because I was drafted in Charlotte. They usually draft a first round pick but I was thrilled when they asked. They took great care of me. MJ loves Jordan’s shoes. I’ve seen it a couple of times, you know a guy is going to get hurt or come out with an injury, and he’s like, “That’s because you’re wearing armor shoes.” It’s because you’re wearing other shoes.”
Graham: A lot of guys would be Nike. But that helps. Obviously you’re playing for the team. I definitely get why.
Caleb Martin: A lot of people have an idea of who they’re going to sign with and stuff when they get there, but I think, at Jordan Brand, they try to keep a lot of people on the team.
Henderson: I had a pending deal. I was about to re-sign with Nicky and I honestly just texted him and said something like, “I’m looking to get this deal. I’m a free agent, basically. I got this deal in hand. Does Jordan want to match that? He replied, “Yes, it is done.”
Temple: The first game I got when I signed a 10-day contract, I had no shoes there. And he’s like, “How many shoes do you wear?” 13. I said, “Well, I wear 13 and a half.” Put on my shoes. I got you a pair. So I put them. I was slipping in shoes. I can’t say no to that. And then I’d say, “Dang, Mike, they might be too big, man. I am 13 years old. He said: “My son, they are the same size.” are you fine.”
Caleb Martin: We were Jordan Brand. He used to send us his old clothes that he no longer wears. It will be like a big bag of things.
Cody Martin: He sent us boxes of like his old clothes and stuff. He’s just a cool guy, and like I said, he’s a regular guy at the same time. He does what everyone else does. He might do a little bit more than we do.
Caleb Martin: It was like old street clothes. It wasn’t like playing dress up or anything like that. It wasn’t like a memory. It was the item he had probably never worn before. i don’t care. I will take it.
Batum: We were in Monaco once. We’ve got the Jordan Brand convention. One night we just talk about life. We are outside the casino. We’re talking about different things and as I am, I’ve only spent a couple of minutes with MJ, just me and him. I couldn’t wait for that when I grew up. How close he is to the boys, that’s good.
Zeller: One of the times he texted me, actually the first time he texted me, I think, was when my grandfather passed away. My grandpa was 95 and I had to miss a game to go to his funeral and it was the first time a number popped up on my phone and it was MJ and he was saying I’m sorry for your loss. who is he. A lot of people see the competitive side of things, but he really cares about the players, the team. And if you are one of his brothers, he will do anything for you. So there’s definitely a caring side to it.
Kidd-Gilchrist. It was a blur. In a good way. Sure, MJ, but when you’re competing and stuff like that, you don’t think, “Oh, I’m playing for Michael Jordan’s team.” It really hits you, like when I see him in the hallways or on the sidelines at games and stuff like that. But it encourages people. Every time he was on the sidelines, he was our No. 1 fan.
Caleb Martin: It’s really weird. It’s a strange feeling when it clicks for you. I see what people mean, he has this aura about him, this energy about him. And maybe that’s because a lot of it is because he’s good at aspiring or in character or whatever in general, but he’s got a real presence about him. It was great to see that because you hear about it all the time. So it’s different when he comes in the room and you talk to him. You are shaking his hand.
Rozier: I think I can speak for all of us, growing up knowing who Madge is, knowing how much he’s put into this game, the things he’s done, so our names get called on draft night or some of us get traded. For such things, it is big. We always think about that, like damn, MJ wanted us. That’s dope.
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(Top photo: Brooke Williams-Smith / NBAE via Getty Images)