The New Orleans Hornets, who entered the NBA in 1988 as the Charlotte Hornets, will soon become the "New Orleans Pelicans." They're ditching a nickname that had no indigenous connection to the city of New Orleans, as opposed to Pelicans, in which they'll be linked to the state bird of Louisiana. (Not to mention a bird that has an orange-rim-shaped mouth, which will come in handy when they get around to designing the logo. But I digress).
Meanwhile, fans of the Charlotte Bobcats wondered if their team could snatch up the suddenly-vacant Hornets nickname once New Orleans throws it to the curb. A bobcat is a pretty intimidating animal in real life, but it just doesn't sound all that cool as the name of a team. Also, since the Bobcats name was chosen by the team's first owner, who just so happened to be named Bob Johnson, it reeks of narcissism. Hornets just makes more sense, and since the Bobcats are coming off perhaps the worst season in the history of the NBA, they could probably use the rebranding anyway.
Michael Jordan, the current Bobcats owner, says he isn't opposed to such a name swap taking place down the line. And if that happens, we'd be witnessing something truly bizarre: two separate franchises would have held possession of the "Hornets" identity, which would have all sorts of historical ramifications. In 2009, the New Orleans Hornets traded Tyson Chandler to the Charlotte Bobcats, but if the name swap goes through, it will have been the Hornets franchise -- the Bobcatsian Charlotte Hornets -- that will have traded for Chandler, not the opposite. Meanwhile, a current Bobcat such as Hakim Warrick, who got traded from New Orleans to Charlotte a month ago, would have the distinction of being a member of two different "Hornets" teams -- assuming Warrick stays in Charlotte through next season.
It would also make things really confusing for anyone calling themselves a "lifelong Hornets fan."
What's really intriguing here is the connection all this has to Michael Jordan, who -- many forget -- put a bid in to become the owner of the Charlotte Hornets more than a decade ago. In 1999, reports surfaced that Jordan -- fresh into retirement No. 2 -- was interested in staking a 50 percent of the share of the team from owner George Shinn. There was even a juicy report that Jordan wanted to lure in Phil Jackson to be the team's coach, while Dean Smith, M.J.'s coach at North Carolina, would serve as the team's president. And all this would coincide with Jordan returning to the court for the Hornets, which would have required a few legal maneuvers in order for an owner to play for his own team.
Ultimately, the talks broke down and Shinn kept full control of the team. There were reports that Jordan didn't want to pony up the $80 million it would have taken to gain 50 percent control, and that he tried to convince Shinn that his presence alone would increase the worth of the organization. Jordan denied this, saying a disagreement had instead stemmed from who would be in charge of the day-to-day operations of the club. "We could have agreed to a 50-50 split," he told the Charlotte Observer. "But ultimately my decisions had to be it. ... It wasn't about money. I offered to buy him out. It was about control and we never were able to get that resolved."
He also added, in typical Michael Jordan style: "I'd be open if [Shinn] called tomorrow morning and said, 'Hey, I've made a terrible mistake, let's talk.' It's up to George. I could not accept a situation where I could not (have a final say)."
This is relevant because in 2002, the Hornets -- still owned by Shinn -- moved to New Orleans. (Shinn said it was necessary because the team had dropped to 30th in attendance; fans in Charlotte would claim that they had become disenfranchised by Shinn, who had not only proved unable to retain key free-agents but had even gone to trial for sexual assault.) In 2006 and 2007, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the Hornets were forced to play a majority of their games in Oklahoma City, and they proved so popular there that the Seattle Sonics moved to Oklahoma City in 2008. Meanwhile, the Hornets' migration from Charlotte allowed the Bobcats into existence as an expansion team in 2004.
In other words, had Michael Jordan actually purchased the Hornets in 1999, they never would have moved to New Orleans (what with Jordan being the loyal UNC alum and all) and the Oklahoma City market would still be untested. The Charlotte Bobcats and Oklahoma City Thunder would not exist.
How weird is it then that Michael Jordan, a decade and a half later, could find himself in control of a new Charlotte Hornets, an organization that would bear no continuation of the team he didn't buy in 1999, which allowed the existence of the Oklahoma City Thunder and the soon-to-be New Orleans Pelicans, as well as the elimination of professional basketball in Seattle. For all that will have come from his decision to not buy the Hornets, he may get to eat his cake after all ... at a cost.
In what may be the ultimate example of how lousy an executive Jordan has been, the $80 million he turned down to become the Hornets owner pales in comparison to the $275 million he spent in 2010 to become the principle owner of the Charlotte Bobcats. So if the Bobcats do become the Hornets, Jordan will have essentially wasted $195 million to own the same damn team he turned down in 1999.
George Steinbrenner, he is not.