By Joe Munley
It’s easy enough to compare the greats in any sport by simply putting their numbers up there – side by side – for all to see. Magic Johnson meant a lot to the game of basketball, and to the NBA in particular, but his contribution to the game & the Association both are dwarfed by the career of Michael Jordan.
Putting anybody’s numbers up against Michael Jordan’s is unfair on general principle. His numbers are gaudy and nearly inhuman: Championships won, career points, career steals, career rebounds, scoring titles, MVPs… The edge in all of these categories goes to Michael. Basically, the only major category in which Magic has an edge is career assists.
Simply put: Michael Jordan’s NBA career was greater than Magic Johnson’s.
The post-NBA careers of both men have told a different story. On that scorecard Magic has the upper hand. Acting as a liaison between big (very big) money investors and urban neighborhoods, Magic’s business ventures have included movie theater chains, real estate investments, restaurants, stores, and a variety of other highly-successful opportunities. Nearly everything he has touched since his playing career came to a screeching halt has turned to gold.
Michael Jordan is a brand. He knows that if his face is put on something it will sell, and it will sell very well. It has been close to 9 years since Jordan retired for good, yet the release of new Air Jordan shoes still cause near riots in the streets. Jordan knows that by lending his name, likeness, or ‘Jumpman’ logo to any product that he is guaranteeing that product wild success.
It is that mentality that I think has doomed his tenure as majority owner of the Charlotte Bobcats. Make no mistake, the Bobcats are worse than we think they are, and much of the blame can legitimately be placed at the feet of their absentee owner. He doesn’t seem willing to put in the time necessary to transform the Bobcats into anything other than the laughingstock that they are right now.
Magic Johnson does things differently. He revels in the strategy and high pressure decision making that comes along with major business deals and acquisitions. So, when a group that he spearheaded successfully purchased the Los Angeles Dodgers for a whopping $2 billion, Dodgers fans everywhere received a very early Christmas present.
Instead of an absentee owner that believes his presence alone will turn his new team into a success, the Dodgers have a smiling front man and a competent businessman that will put in the work necessary to build a winner both on the diamond and in a marketing sense. The Dodgers are going to be re-branded, and that is a good thing.
Aside from their management styles (absentee & hands-on), there is one other difference between ‘Jordan the Owner’ and ‘Magic the Owner’ that will play a big role in Magic’s success: the choice of sport they’ve taken on.
As chronicled by the many achievements I’ve listed above, there is no question that Jordan is one of the best – if not the best–players ever to pick up a basketball. It seemed only natural that he would be able to build a winner in Charlotte when he bought out the team. Instead, he has proven to be as inept at evaluating players on the hardwood as he was great at beating them throughout his playing career. His greatness as a player has given way to severe disconnect in the ability to evaluate players that will simply never be as good as he was.
Magic, on the other hand, has thrown his ownership hat into the ring in a sport that he’s had nothing to do with professionally: Baseball. He knows going in that he will have to rely on people within the ownership group and team management (i.e. baseball people) to make some of the more important on-field decisions. One of these ‘baseball people’ is former Washington Nationals team president Stan Kasten, a guy that just happens to be one of the partners in Magic’s purchasing group. In short, Magic is set up for success because he has surrounded himself with people he can rely on to put quality talent on the field while he is doing his part to draw the community back to the team & focusing on re-branding a legendary team that has lost a lot of luster over the years.
If Magic’s other business ventures from his post-NBA career are any indication, the Dodgers will once again find that luster & Magic will add another notch to his belt. In this, at least, we can agree that Magic is greater than Michael.
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