Can Michael Jordan rebound?

After his Charlotte Bobcats suffer the worst season in NBA history and critics start to lash out, MJ seems to be trying to bolster his image.

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  • Illustration: Robert Carter

    Michael Jordan

  • Photograph: Barry Brecheisen

    Jordan with Scottie Pippen last month at Sunda

  • Photograph: Mike Schoaf/Illinois PGA

    Jordan signing an oversized golf ball in honor of September�s Ryder Cup in Medinah

  • Photograph: Martha Williams

    Michael Jordan�s Steak House celebrated its first anniversary in August

  • A new tribute to No. 23 at Nike�s Michigan Avenue store

Illustration: Robert Carter

Michael Jordan

Michael Jordan has gone cold.


The man who led USA basketball’s first Dream Team to gold in Barcelona in ’92 was sharply criticized in fall 2009 for not doing enough to help Chicago land the Olympic Games. (After keeping the bid committee guessing for months whether he’d join the delegation to Copenhagen to lobby the International Olympic Committee, Jordan was a no-show.)


The man who once fought for NBA players to keep a fat share of league revenue, famously telling Washington Wizards owner Abe Pollin during the 1998–99 lockout, “If you can’t make it work economically, you should sell the team,” put his best on-court spin moves to shame by executing a breathtaking about-face as principal owner of the Charlotte Bobcats. During the 2011 lockout, Jordan’s hard-line call to reduce the players’ revenue share led Wizards guard Nick Young to tweet, “im not wearin jordans no more cant believe what i just seen and heard from MJ #ElvisDoneLeftTheBuilding.”


Most egregious of all, the man who led the Bulls in 1995–96 to the best regular-season record in NBA history, 72-10, piloted his Bobcats to just seven wins against 59 losses in the lockout-shortened 2011–12 season, the league’s worst-ever winning percentage. It was like watching Einstein fail at teaching math 101.


But through his mounting trials as a basketball executive, first in Washington, D.C., and then in North Carolina, Jordan, 49, has maintained close ties with Chicago, opening restaurants here and investing in other local businesses. In late September, he made headlines for being named an honorary member of the U.S. Ryder Cup golf team playing in suburban Medinah—and for dropping in to Sunda for former Bulls teammate Scottie Pippen’s surprise birthday party. A few weeks before hitting the dance floor with Pippen, Jordan described what the city means to him in an interview with TOC.


“Chicago will always hold a special place in my heart, no matter where I live,” Jordan said. “The people of the city truly embraced me and supported me throughout my career and ever since. It’s where I became the man I am today. It’s where my greatest professional accomplishments took place. It’s where my kids were born.”


Jordan may still profess his love for Chicago after all these years, but does Chicago love him back? When sports writers ask that question these days, it’s often delivered in an incredulous tone. Among an increasing number of scribes, analysts, players and NBA insiders, it’s become fashionable to attack Michael Jordan. Ten seasons after his final retirement as a player and one season after his current team’s historic collapse, Jordan is feeling the heat of negative opinion more than ever. What’s more, some of his recent moves suggest he’s worried about falling out of favor with the consumers who make him one of the world’s most highly compensated celebrity pitchmen. Could Air Jordan actually be losing altitude?


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