Michael Jordan may be the greatest basketball player in history. He led the Chicago Bulls to six National Basketball Association championships, twice doing it in three consecutive years. His season scoring average of 30.1 points per game is the highest in the league’s history. And he won five Most Valuable Player awards, as well as making the all-league defensive team in nine of his 15 seasons. But Michael Jordan has become much more than a basketball player. Today, he is a sport icon, one of the best-known athletes in the world. His fame has transcended his sport and transformed him into a marketing mega-power. His Brand Jordan with Nike is approaching a $500-million-a-year business worldwide.
But now, two years after leaving the NBA and his final stint as a player with the Washington Wizards, Jordan has decided to speak out, not just about basketball, but his business goals, his personal pleasures and, most of all, his private life. He sat down in his Chicago-area home for a one-on-one interview withCigar Aficionado editor and publisher Marvin R. Shanken to discuss his life, his achievements, his passions and dreams.
Marvin R. Shanken: What brought you more pleasure, playing for the North Carolina Tar Heels or the Chicago Bulls?
Michael Jordan: That’s a good question. I would say it was for the Tar Heels. No one knew me until then. That’s when the notoriety and everything began with Michael Jordan. By the time I got to Chicago, I was drafted three, so everybody knew I was at least decent.
But at North Carolina, when they recruited me and asked me to attend the university, it was an opportunity to prove myself. Up to that point, everybody had heard that this kid is pretty good, but we don’t know how good. He came from a small town. He wasn’t preseason All-American. He wasn’t in the Top 100 High School kids. He didn’t attend AAU games, and he was not a ranked player in the nation.
The University of North Carolina really gave me the foundation that it took to become a basketball player. Up to then, I hadn’t been spoiled by the media spotlight. I was still raw. As a result, I had an appetite to prove to everybody that I was a decent basketball player, or a good enough basketball player to be at North Carolina. That was by far the purest experience for me, and the most satisfying.
MRS: Did you ever regret missing your senior year?
JORDAN: Yeah, because I had a great time in college. It was the first time I’d been away from home. I’d met new people and made new friends. It was an exciting time. It was just fun.
MRS: What was the rush to jump out early?
JORDAN: It was Coach [Dean] Smith’s call. I relied so much on his knowledge. The NBA was an area where I wasn’t too knowledgeable. My parents weren’t knowledgeable about it, either. And it was a great opportunity. Coach Smith felt that it would be the best opportunity for me to make it in professional basketball. Once he researched the situation to find out where I would go in the draft, then I started weighing the pros and cons.
MRS: Wasn’t that pretty unselfish of him, because it meant he would lose you the next season?
JORDAN: That was totally unselfish. It’s the kind of person that he was. He could have said, “You should stay for your senior year. We have a great team with some great new recruits.” Kenny Smith and Brad Daugherty were coming on. Our team was going to be really good. But he felt like for me, personally, going to the NBA was the best thing, and it was the best opportunity.
MRS: How exciting was it, going back this year, and watching North Carolina win the NCAA championship again?
JORDAN: I only went to one game in almost 21 years. One game at Notre Dame that I drove down for from Chicago in my second or third season with the Bulls. Other than that, I’d never been to a Carolina basketball game. To go there and see the tradition and see that everything was still the same was great. The camaraderie. The sport. The former players. The executives. Everything was the same. It was good for me to go back, and it was good for my kids to see. That’s one of the reasons I went, was for my kids.
MRS: How did the fans treat you?
JORDAN: Well, it was a little different because of Illinois playing in the finals. I live in Illinois. It was the first time [Illinois] had been to a title game in so many years. But my true heart was with Carolina. And I think the fans understood that. They weren’t bitter that I was supporting Carolina or that I was wearing the Carolina blue.
MRS: I read that almost the entire starting team of North Carolina has opted to go into the NBA draft, including three juniors [Rashad McCants, Raymond Felton and Sean May] as well as freshman Marvin Williams. Is this good for the players?
JORDAN: Is that good? I can be biased from the outside looking in. I’m very supportive of the university, and I would like to see them have the opportunity to defend the championship. In that respect, I think the players should have stayed in school. Just from a selfish aspect, I wanted to cheer for my university. But I don’t have the understanding of what the family situations were for these players, or what motivates them. Sometimes you have to follow your dream. Their decision also depends on what Coach [Roy] Williams advised them, and about what pick they would be. That team had accomplished a lot in winning a championship. That’s the ultimate prize. I think what my mother would have told me, as long as you go back and get that degree, then I can understand the sacrifice that you make to leave school. [Editor’s note: Jordan, who left college in 1984, received his degree from North Carolina in 1986.]
MRS: Are these early exits from college good or bad for the NBA?
JORDAN: That depends, too. I’m a firm believer that a player should be 20 years old or older before going to the pros. Anything less than that is potentially bad. You’ve got a lot of things you have to take into consideration. The lifestyle. Just the mental and physical demands of the NBA that these kids are going to be dealing with are tough. And their whole maturity level, not only for basketball but on the personal side, too, has to be taken into account. If I had been a freshman or even a sophomore, no matter how good I was, I don’t know if I would have been ready for what I had to deal with in the professional ranks. But you got more and more young guys doing it. I am a firm believer that something is affected by leaving college early, or not going to college at all.
As an NBA executive, if you have to invest in a player, you want to see more of the product that you are going to invest in. Since you aren’t going to see as many games [of those leaving school early] to be able to gauge the maturity of these guys’ basketball talent, you’re rolling the dice. You are gambling. If you don’t gamble right, you’re going to be set back two or three years.
Now how does it affect the colleges? Look at North Carolina. You have to rebuild that team. You’ve almost got to start up again with all new players.
But the impact is even spreading down into the high school ranks. Kids there are not really looking at academics. They just want to get good. If they can’t get into a college, the first thing they’re going to say is, Well, I’m going to go pro. That may not be the best thing for them. So this trend trickles down all the way into high school.
MRS: Are you saying that kids should not be allowed to go directly from high school into the pros without some kind of college experience?
JORDAN: That’s exactly what I’m saying. I’m a firm believer in that. You can argue a lot of different situations, from social to financial. Maybe there has to be some type of arrangements, or agreement between the NCAA and the NBA, for those kids who are not financially stable. For them, there will always be pressure for going to the pros, to take care of their families.
MRS: What about players like Kevin Garnett? Kobe Bryant? LeBron James?
JORDAN: But you’re talking about one player, LeBron James, who’s been very successful in his first two years. Kobe [Bryant], Kevin Garnett, Tracy McGrady, Jermaine O’Neal—all those guys took at least three years before they adapted to what they had to do as professional basketball players.
MRS: They probably don’t know what they missed, but you knew because you experienced college. What’s important about staying in college?
JORDAN: You get the chance to mature in college. They get a chance to deal with a lot of issues in college. There’s the education aspect, too. College teaches you a lot. It teaches you about being on your own, making decisions and even handling bank accounts. Eventually, you’re going to have to deal with those things anyway.
MRS: You mentioned Dean Smith in a very positive way. I’ve wanted to ask what influence Dean Smith had on you as a young player.
JORDAN: He taught me a lot about the game. Not just about the athleticism required to play it. I’m a firm believer that when you come out of high school, you are strictly athletic. You’ve got a lot of athletic talents. Very few players are taught the game the right way in high school. When you go into these college programs, which was the best thing that happened to me, they are going to teach you all aspects of the game of basketball so you can apply that to your athletic skills and develop them. Once you leave college, you are a complete basketball player. Athletically, you are complete. And you know how to utilize that athleticism, and you know how to play the game within the team concept. You got a lot of these kids coming out of high school who never really had the right coaching. They think they can get by with just athleticism. It’s not that way. There is very little teaching in the pros. You don’t have time to teach. You’ve got 82 games in a season.
MRS: Where did you learn your work ethic?
JORDAN: My parents.
MRS: People say that nobody practiced harder, and you worked as hard in practice as you did in a game. There were no two different levels. Is that true?
JORDAN: I was taught to do it that way by my parents, and by the way they approached their daily activities. It wasn’t half-assed. So I practiced like I played. So when I played, playing was fun. Practice is work. You’re working on the idiosyncrasies of what your game needs, so when the game comes, you showcase it and you utilize it. You build your game on it. Practice wasn’t just a place to take time off. You work on things in practice. On shooting, on going left or on using your left hand—those types of things that help you get better.
MRS: You were drafted number three. Did you have any idea before the draft where you were going to go? Were you surprised? Were you disappointed?
JORDAN: At the time I committed to go pro, because of Coach Smith’s research, I was projected to go to Philly because Philly was in the third spot. Back in those days, the draft was based on wins and losses. So at the time, Philly was in the third slot. Billy Cunningham was the coach, and he was a Carolina guy. He said based on where we are right now in the third slot, Michael won’t go less than three because we’ll take him at three. Coach Smith knew that plan. But Chicago started losing games. In those days, if you lost games, you could move up in the draft. So once Chicago moved into third place, Philly moved to fifth because Dallas was coming in as an expansion team and they had the fourth pick. I could have easily gone back to the fifth pick. But then we got assurance from Houston that if they lost the coin flip to Portland, they’d take me—it was a coin flip between the top two teams to determine the first pick. But if Houston won the coin flip, they said they were going to take Hakeem Olajuwon. And that’s exactly what happened. Hakeem Olajuwon went to Houston, and Portland went to its fallback pick, which was Sam Bowie. If Portland had won the coin flip, they would have taken Hakeem, and I would have ended up in Houston. But the coin flip came up Houston, and that put me back to third with Chicago.
MRS: Did you have a preference for which city you wanted to play in?
JORDAN: Not really. At that time, I just wanted to be drafted.
MRS: You were born in Brooklyn, New York. I just want to remind you. [Lots of laughter]
JORDAN: I don’t think New York was in the picture. I don’t think they had a pick that year. But at that time, you just want to get in the league. I didn’t watch much pro basketball until I got into college, so I just wanted to play in the NBA.
MRS: What was your original deal in Chicago?
JORDAN: Financially? People are going to love this. It was a seven-year deal. I averaged about $850,000 a year. The first year’s compensation was $650,000. There was no signing bonus. We tried to get an attendance clause. They were averaging 6,000 people a game. So we thought, OK, we’re going to ask for an attendance clause. At the time, Jonathan Kovler was the owner. My agent, David Falk, went in and asked for that. Kovler said, We’re not going to give him an attendance clause because if we draft him at the three spot, he’d better put people in the seats. So they never gave us an attendance clause.
MRS: So for the first seven years, you didn’t get a raise?
JORDAN: Nope, that was my deal.
MRS: Were you unhappy about that?
JORDAN: No, I wasn’t unhappy. Money didn’t drive me at that time, so I wasn’t worried about it. Once I signed my contract, I felt like, Let’s go out and earn the money. And, I was the highest-paid rookie at the time.
MRS: Do you have a happiest memory or a peak moment when you were playing with the Chicago Bulls?
JORDAN: My happiest moment? There were so many. Do you want me to start early in my career? Making the playoffs the first time was the biggest thing for me because that franchise hadn’t experienced the playoffs in a long, long time. The fans’ attitude was “wait until next year, wait till next year.”
In the third game of my career, we were playing Milwaukee and we were down 16 points going into the fourth quarter. People started to leave. That was their whole attitude. The game was over. I’d never experienced people leaving a game like that. It was something new. Everybody at North Carolina stayed until the end of the game, out of respect to the team.
Most of my teammates in Chicago had adapted to the fans leaving and just figured, The game must be over. I’m saying, No, it’s not over until there are triple zeros on the scoreboard. I got a burst of energy and started to lead the charge. I got the opportunity to prove it’s never really over. We came from 16 points down to win the game. That’s when the city of Chicago started to say, OK, something’s starting to happen, something is changing. There’s no give-up in this kid, no matter what. He’s going to keep fighting and fighting and fighting until we win or lose. That’s how my first season went. That was the biggest plus for me when we made the playoffs that year.
MRS: When you were playing for the Bulls, did you, as a player or as a team, ever have any real rivalries, or was it all hype?
JORDAN: No, we had some rivalries. Early on, it was Milwaukee. We couldn’t beat Milwaukee. They were just 45 minutes to an hour away. They were a strong team and they constantly kept beating us. Even when we got in the playoffs, they kept beating us. Then we got to a point where we started beating them. Then the rivalry went from Milwaukee to Detroit. And that was brutal. Isiah [Thomas] was from Chicago, and he wanted to come back and show he still dominated Chicago. I was the new guy in Chicago, and people were supporting the team. It became a dogfight between us. There was some real hatred there. On the floor, it was that whole physicality of the game, and that’s what was happening on the basketball court. Anybody going into the paint was going to get knocked down. If you got stitches, you got stitches. Those are the types of games we had. But once we overcame them, then we knew we could do anything. There was no one else beating us, or having that kind of rivalry with us.
MRS: Your biggest rival was Detroit. Where did the Knicks fit in?
JORDAN: The Knicks came later.
MRS: Because as New Yorkers, we hated Michael Jordan. You single-handedly took us down more times than I want to remember. Every time in the playoffs when we thought we could reach the top, you nailed us.
JORDAN: Once we started winning and got past Detroit, the Knicks became our biggest rivals. They were trying to get where we were. We were trying to maintain what we were. Every battle was magnified. Patrick [Ewing] was a good friend. Charles Oakley used to be in Chicago. John Starks, Charles Smith, Anthony Mason—all these guys. When Detroit was winning, everybody had adopted the physical type of game. New York became that way, too. You go in the middle, you’re going to get hit. Patrick was a fierce intimidator.
MRS: What was this rumor about Jordan coming to New York? We always heard that Michael Jordan was coming to the Knicks. We hated you, but on the other hand, we wanted you.
JORDAN: It was truly a rumor. We had one occasion when there was a dialogue. It must have been in 1996 or 1997 because of my contract situation in Chicago. But nothing ever really materialized.
MRS: But you told me recently that had a phone call come at the right time, you would have been a New York Knick.
JORDAN: If Chicago had not made a significant offer, New York was next. We actually had a dialogue with New York. If a phone call didn’t come in 30 minutes from Chicago, we had already given assurances that we would have gone to the Knicks for less money.
MRS: How would you fix today’s New York Knicks? [Laughter]
JORDAN: I knew that was coming. I don’t want to second-guess Isiah. I’m not taking over for Isiah Thomas as general manager.
MRS: No, I’m not suggesting that. What would you do?
JORDAN: They have a tough team. They have a lot of injuries and a lot of big contracts. First of all, you have to find some commodities that you feel will benefit the New York Knicks, but when you do that, you can’t just think one way. You have to find some team that feels that the players on the Knicks will be a better fit for the other team. Until you find the right situations for those players, you have to wait until their existing contracts expire or buy them out of their contracts. For the Knicks, it isn’t a financial issue; they are still taking on a lot of contracts.
MRS: But didn’t they get rid of a lot of contracts, too?
JORDAN: But they’ve taken on a lot, too. They are not going to be under the cap any time soon.
MRS: Which will be an easier problem to fix, the Knicks or the Lakers?
JORDAN: The Knicks don’t have any cap space to create a different team. When you look at the Lakers, they may have one or maybe two sustaining long contracts. The Knicks have four.
MRS: So you’re saying the Lakers would be easier to fix?
JORDAN: Sure. They’d be easier to fix.
MRS: How would you fix the Lakers today?
JORDAN: I would have never gotten rid of Shaq [O’Neal]. It’s as simple as that. You’ve got three championships with a big man, and big men are hard to find. Not only that, you have the most dominant big man in the game today. You don’t just send him away because you got some problems.
MRS: Does Kobe read about what’s going on in Miami?
JORDAN: I’m pretty sure he does. But you can’t blame one guy. It’s a combination of both of them. If you’ve got success in your house, you find a way to manage so that everybody prospers and everybody is viewed as champions. Personalities got involved after they’d had some success. It becomes about individuals—individual goals that they wanted to achieve. Be it Kobe leading the league in scoring and carrying the team by himself, or Shaq proving he can win without Kobe. What’s the purpose of changing if you’ve got the right mixture that’s working? Give me a seven-footer and I’d probably still be playing right now.
MRS: The media have made a big thing about drugs this year. Is this something new or something that was around in the ’80s and the ’90s? Is it worse today? Is it the same? Is it a serious problem?
JORDAN: Drugs have been in the game for a long time. They were there when I was in college, and even in high school. It’s in life. It’s in business. It’s everywhere. It starts with the kids of tomorrow, and how those kids are brought up and what their values are. And how the parents teach those kids those values. If you don’t take the time to teach those values, they will make the same mistakes. Is it still prevalent in sports? Yes.
MRS: Is it worse today than it was 20, 30 years ago?
JORDAN: I wouldn’t say that. I wouldn’t say it’s worse. There is some drug awareness out there. I must admit, it’s still prevalent. But it’s not worse. They’ve tried in the NBA to implement some provisions to monitor drug use, to eliminate it and totally get rid of it. To some degree, it is working.
MRS: It seems like for the first time in football, baseball and basketball, both on the union’s side and in management, they are understanding what drugs are and that they have to do everything in their power to stop their use. Was that the case in the past?
JORDAN: No. Drug use was hidden in a lot of sports a long time ago. Now it’s out in the open, be it steroids in baseball or steroids in football. Steroids have never been prevalent in professional basketball. But you got a lot of marijuana smoking and drug use like cocaine. All that stuff has been in the NBA. We’ve been able to curtail it and try to eliminate it, but it’s very tough to eliminate. I think marijuana is still strong in the NBA. I’d like to see that paid more attention to. I think [NBA Commissioner] David Stern has done a great job to eliminate all those issues, but no one is going to be able to eliminate it completely.
MRS: Do you miss the excitement of basketball?
JORDAN: Yes. I have to stay away from it because of it. I wouldn’t say it’s an addiction, but it’s a passion. When you have a passion, you want to do it as much as possible. Addiction means you can’t help yourself. I have a strong passion for the game of basketball.
MRS: Michael, I’m now giving you the opportunity to create the Dream Team of Michael Jordan, of all players of basketball. You’re on the team, and you can name four other guys at different positions. That doesn’t mean there aren’t 20 other great guys for those positions, but you can explain your picks.
JORDAN: That’s a very good question. It’s going to be somewhat biased because I didn’t play back in the days of Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, some of the great stars prior to me. And it’s very tough because I’m friends with a lot of players today.
But if I had to pick a center, I would take Olajuwon. That leaves out Shaq, Patrick Ewing. It leaves out Wilt Chamberlain. It leaves out a lot of people. And the reason I would take Olajuwon is very simple: he is so versatile because of what he can give you from that position. It’s not just his scoring, not just his rebounding or not just his blocked shots. People don’t realize he was in the top seven in steals. He always made great decisions on the court. For all facets of the game, I have to give it to him.
Power forward: There’s James Worthy, whom I love, and he is a North Carolina guy. Karl Malone, Charles Barkley, whom I adore and is a good friend, and Charles Oakley. But in terms again of versatility, it has to be Larry Bird. The things he could provide to you all around: his demeanor, his work ethic and his versatility once again.
The idea here is I would build a versatile, multitalented team able to do so many different things. When the defense comes at you, they have to guard a lot of different areas, and that makes Larry Bird the choice for me.
Small forward: That is the toughest part because I played with one of the best small forwards, Scottie Pippen. He is as versatile as it comes. He handles the ball. He’s a good defensive rebounder. I would be hard-pressed to pick someone else at the small forward position, even though I know Dr. J [Julius Erving] is sitting right there, too, especially in terms of excitement. And there’s Dominique Wilkins, too. And you’d have to think about Elgin Baylor, even though I never saw Baylor play, or played with him. But from what I know, and what he could provide, it’s Scottie Pippen. I know that’s being biased to some degree. But I can’t help it.
Point guard: That’s easy. Magic Johnson. Because of his height, you’d have a tough time defending him. It’s a beautiful thing to see a 6-foot 9-inch guy rebound the ball and start the break.
It would be the all-time tallest team, putting me at the two guard. And coming off the bench would be Jerry West to replace me. I love Jerry West.
MRS: Who in your mind is the best shooter you’ve ever seen?
JORDAN: Best shooter. Oh, boy. That’s a great question. Pure shooter?
MRS: Or clutch shooter. I have another one here, best clutch player. You can combine the two if you want.
MRS: Did you ever watch the Big O [Oscar Robertson] play?
JORDAN: Yeah, I watched him play. He was an all-around player, but I wouldn’t say he was one of the best shooters. But he was one of the best all-around players, in the same category as Magic Johnson, who could rebound, assist and score. Pure shooter, I would say Brian Winters, who played for the Milwaukee Bucks. He had the most beautiful stroke of all the people whom I can think of. You could go, too, with John Paxson, who was next to me in the backcourt in Chicago. Clutch. He doesn’t have the best form. But Reggie Miller. Or maybe Jerry West; it’s hard picking one.
MRS: Best rebounder?
JORDAN: Moses [Malone]. No doubt it was Moses.
MRS: Most unselfish, a real team guy who put himself second, third, last, whatever, just cared about winning?
JORDAN: You could think of a lot of players like that in the pros. But to pick one, who would have the biggest impact on a game where you had a chance to win, that would be Magic Johnson.
MRS: Best coach?
JORDAN: I played for very few coaches.
MRS: The Dream Team has to have a coach.
JORDAN: I can’t pick Coach Smith. I would take him because of my own preference. But Phil Jackson is by far the best professional coach, and that’s a close call with Larry Brown and Pat Riley.
MRS: Where do you think Phil Jackson is going to go? You think he’ll stay with the Lakers?
JORDAN: He loves L.A, and he has a great connection with L.A. I think he would consider that.
MRS: But he played for the Knicks.
JORDAN: I think it’s between the Knicks and the Lakers.
MRS: The Harris Poll named you the most popular athlete in America for the past 13 years.
JORDAN: Why 13?
MRS: I don’t know. [Laughter] Because they’ve been doing it for 13 years. Explain to me why you are the most popular athlete in all sports. That’s an extraordinary achievement.
JORDAN: You ask me, and I wouldn’t know. My personality is my personality. I’m very real when people see me. The way that I’m protected, I am as close to normal as anyone could be. In terms of my accolades and the way I played the game, those things had something to do with it, along with the marketability of Michael Jordan. And I don’t quit. I’m a very competitive person. That could be taken in a lot of different ways. Some people take it in a negative way, and some people take it in a positive way.
MRS: You don’t quit. You work hard. You don’t speak out like a child. There have been players who have gone public with a lot of complaining that ends up hurting them, but you’ve been fairly pure and quiet.
JORDAN: I think things out well. When I speak, I speak with conviction. If I feel like it’s something that best suits me and my person, I deal with it. I say it. I have no problem speaking out publicly about issues. But for personal things, and for things about personal selfishness, or wanting more money, I don’t do that. Once I give my word, that’s it. I don’t go back to renegotiate. I don’t renegotiate my contracts.
MRS: How did you get into endorsements? There have been other celebrities, but you took endorsements and ran with it in an unconventional way on a huge stage. How did this happen?
JORDAN: When I came into the pros, I never knew anything about the business aspect outside of basketball. All I focused on was basketball. The beauty was what my agents, David Falk and Donald Dell, did back in the Bulls days. They took what I did on the basketball court and attached a marketing value to it, and connected me to companies that had the same values that I had from the basketball standpoint. Coca-Cola, Gatorade, Hanes, Sara Lee. Those type of things. They built a connection from a puzzle that they pieced together because of what I portrayed on the basketball court.
I didn’t go into the NBA thinking, “OK, now I’m going to capitalize on all these marketing dollars.” It just happened. If you asked my agents how they created this mixture, they couldn’t tell you. It was just one of those things. We entered the league in an era when the marketing of athletes became prevalent. It became one of the biggest things. Larry Bird and Magic Johnson should have been there first. Their reputations should have given them opportunity. But they didn’t foresee it and they didn’t capitalize on it. Initially, I think it became a sticking point in our relationships, because I was getting things that from a success standpoint they were entitled to or should have at least had the opportunity to obtain. But the timing was perfect for me.
MRS: It’s been 20 years since Nike launched the first Air Jordan shoe, and today, it’s turned into Brand Jordan, a significant business for Nike. How did the relationship happen, and what role do you play today?
JORDAN: I never wore a Nike shoe until I signed with Nike. I wore Converse in college, and I was a big Adidas fan. Then Nike came to me about creating my own shoe. They wanted to put my name on my shoe, and [let me] have input into the design of the shoe. I’d never heard of that before. It was a great pitch. It gave me an opportunity to learn more about the shoe industry, and they gave me an opportunity to create. I sat down with the designers and I talked to them about my personality and things that I like and things I feel people may like. We put all those thoughts into a brand, into the Jordan brand and into the shoe.
Things just started to progress. The public adapted to it and accepted it. We continued to create and lead, and the public kept following and following. It has continued for 20 years. We pride ourselves on putting certain values in the products. Determination.
Competitiveness. Design. Creativity. Style. Those are all the things that make up my personality. And they have been turned into a product that sells. The public has received that message consistently each and every time. That has aided the success of the brand.
Once the brand had evolved into something of significance, we decided to see if we could create its own foundation, separate from Nike. We wanted to give it an appearance of two entities, with Nike as the parent company and Brand Jordan as a subsidiary. I was given the opportunity to get involved at a hands-on level, touching, creating, approving everything that has the Jumpman on it. We took Nike off the brand, and put the Jumpman on the brand to see if the public would receive us properly. And they have. With that move, we have been able to expand, not just in basketball, but in baseball, football, boxing and outside of sports, too, like a Ralph Lauren or Tommy Hilfiger or those type of brands.
Even though Nike was not that edgy and not that stylish, but more traditional, they gave me an opportunity to expand on the more creative stuff. They controlled 80 percent of the basketball industry, but they knew, just because of consumer preferences, it would be tough to get more than 80 percent. So they created this other brand to capitalize, and it proved to be the correct way to do it.
MRS: Aren’t you a worldwide brand today?
JORDAN: All over the world. And today, Brand Jordan is a $485 million business.
MRS: Do you have any official responsibilities? Are you a corporate officer?
JORDAN: No, I maintain my independent endorser status. But I approve all the decisions for Brand Jordan.
MRS: Do you get a salary and royalties, so as the brand grows, your royalties grow? If you want a junior partner, I’m available.
JORDAN: I haven’t seen you in shorts yet.
MRS: [Laughter] I got a feeling if that’s a condition, I’m out. Let’s move on. When did you decide that the last chapter, or in an important future chapter, you should be an NBA owner instead of just a player or an endorser?
JORDAN: It was an acquired taste. When I came in as a player, I was dumbfounded by the business aspect, but I learned about the business of basketball during the 20 years I was involved. I created an appetite in myself to still have an impact on the game and have an influence on the game from a managerial position. I managed a team for a couple of years. I felt like I did a good job with the Washington Wizards, contrary to what people may think. Because of that experience, I still want to have an impact on a basketball team, but I want to do it from an ownership position. I want to have a longtime connection with the game of basketball.
MRS: Is that because you see yourself as a businessman, or because you saw things done by management that were good or bad, that you might have changed?
JORDAN: Exactly. Yes, I consider myself a businessperson, and yes, I felt like certain things happened that if I was in ownership, I would have done it differently. I would have made decisions totally differently.
MRS: They say that from every experience, good or bad, there is a valuable lesson learned. What lessons did you take out of the Washington Wizards?
JORDAN: I think it exposed me to a lot of decision making. One of the bad decisions I made was to go back and play. Even though I was soothing an itch that I had, I also thought I was being innovative in my job by going down and evaluating the talent firsthand. I thought it would be a good idea to play against them, see what their tendencies were and what we were paying for. But at the same time, I became more critical of them because of the way I played the game and the way I’d approached the game, and the players didn’t respond to that. They didn’t respond to the desire that I had when I was playing. I may just have gotten too close to see or maybe too critical of certain actions of the players. That was one of the biggest mistakes that I feel I made in Washington.
You go in with initiative, and you go into a program that needs guidance, and you have to find out what the agenda may be. With the Washington situation, there was an agenda. They were well over the cap and they were losing money.
MRS: They didn’t have anybody coming to games.
JORDAN: The first thought was, Let’s reduce the losses. That’s what the Knicks and some of these other teams have to do today. You have to get rid of some of the bad contracts so you create as much flexibility as quickly as possible. That way, you can more easily change the team and change the attitudes, and get some younger talent and hungry players. You have to get some new people in there.
I feel like we did that in the first couple of years in Washington. We got rid of all the bad contracts and we put ourselves in a position where we weren’t losing as much money. We put ourselves in the position to get profitable as quickly as possible.
When [Wizards owner] Abe [Pollin] decided not to hire me back as president of basketball operations, I felt the team was in a great position. People consider that to be a bad experience for me, but you look at that team and how much flexibility they had and how much room they [had] under the cap, and they were able to go out and get some of these players.
I think my management team did a good job of helping turn the Wizards around. We may not get the credit, but that’s all well and good. We did what we were asked to do, which was two things: Help the franchise get back into the financial plus side, which I think they are strong today in that area. And the second thing was build young talent. That’s where they are today, and they are very successful and winning.
Ernie [Grunfeld, president of basketball operations] has gone in there and done a great job with the coaching staff and gotten the players together. We look at what we did, and we gave him a good base to build on. And we will never get the credit for it. So people look at that as a negative for me, but it was a learning experience, because I did some good things right and a couple of things bad.
I’d like to go in somewhere now with a little bit more time, and with an ownership stake where I can implement my own views about certain things and take a program and make it successful.
MRS: Do today’s contracts, which make young kids instant millionaires, end up slowing down or holding back their own performance because they are so financially secure that they are not giving the kind of effort that you gave to the game?
JORDAN: Values have changed. Those were the days where no matter what you got paid, you played the game to play the game. There are players—some of the young players—who are playing the game for what they are going to get paid. I think that has a lot to do with the success of the NBA. It’s a very profitable organization. It’s very marketable. There’s a lot of outside income that can be generated in terms of what’s happening on the basketball court. Yes, it has changed. But you still find a lot of players who play basketball for the love of the game. And those players aren’t affected by what they are getting paid.
MRS: Do you have a secret dream of one day waking up and you own the Chicago Bulls?
JORDAN: I would love to own the Chicago Bulls because of what the franchise provided to me. It would give me the opportunity to move it further into a successful program. But I do understand that Jerry Reinsdorf is a good owner. He is a very good businessman. He has a family that enjoys the game of basketball. And I totally understand his maintaining his ownership of the Bulls.
MRS: What about other cities?
JORDAN: I would love to look at other scenarios and see what from an economic standpoint best suits me.
MRS: You know what I was thinking. You’re going to be involved in a real estate venture in Las Vegas, and I don’t think they have a team there. Wouldn’t that be hot?
JORDAN: I’d love to own a franchise in Las Vegas. But who wouldn’t? The opportunity it provides just from being in Las Vegas creates a great economic situation. But it’s not just Michael Jordan who would find that attractive. You could find a lot of other potential owners or investors who’d like to own a team in Las Vegas. Will it happen? I don’t know.
MRS: What’s the project you’re involved with there, the Aqua View Luxury Condominium—Hotel Resort and Spa?
JORDAN: A gentleman named Michael Peters came to me, and he is involved in building condominiums. It’s a big trend in Vegas. MGM MIRAGE, all these companies are doing it. He wanted my association with the project. I told him that my biggest expertise in that arena would be to do restaurants. I’ve done restaurants in the past. I have a company that starts up and builds Michael Jordan Steak Houses. So we decided that would be my role in this whole scenario, doing restaurants in that building. That is my connection.
MRS: Also, I read, an athletic center.
JORDAN: That is a concept that we don’t know if we are going to follow through or not. But that is one concept we are discussing.
MRS: In all the press, you are not at all involved with the casino in that project. Is that because it might have an effect on your ability to own an NBA team?
JORDAN: Probably. But that’s not one of my interests.
MRS: Talk to me about this little white [golf] ball.
JORDAN: That addiction. Now, that is an addiction.
MRS: When did you start playing golf?
JORDAN: I started playing the summer of 1984. I had just committed to go pro. And I went out and played some holes at North Carolina. I went with a good friend of mine, John Simpkins, who was on the golf team at the time with Al Wood, and we played 18 holes with Davis Love [III], who was attending North Carolina at the time. I parred one of the 18 holes, and I’ve been hooked ever since.
MRS: Aren’t you good friends with Tiger Woods?
JORDAN: Oh yeah. Tiger and I met about eight years ago. It’s ironic, because he is in the same scenario from a marketing and business standpoint that I was when I came into the NBA. I’ve been able to answer some of the questions that he’s had about dealing with certain things. Our friendship has grown since then. And we talk all the time about mental approach, dealing with the expectations from the public.
MRS: I can see where you have, from a personal standpoint, so much in common in your own respective areas. Have you ever joked around with him because a lot of people call him the Michael Jordan of golf? How does he handle that?
JORDAN: He’s OK. He doesn’t really look at it that way. I don’t rub it in. I let him know that I’m a little bit older than him, and so I beat him to the punch. And that’s the only thing it means. It’s just a standard of measurement. When I came out, they said I was the Dr. J of the NBA until I earned my own.
MRS: Another thing that I’m really disappointed about, if my research is correct, is that you don’t shoot craps. But I hear that you are a pretty good blackjack player. Is that true?
JORDAN: Well, I lose. Just like everybody else. Does that determine if you’re good or not? I know the rules.
MRS: I spoke to a guy who shall remain nameless who said to me that you are one of the few athletes that wins more than he loses, and when you’re ahead, you know how to walk, and when you’re behind, you know how to walk. You are a disciplined blackjack player, and he has a great deal of respect for you.
JORDAN: Is it one of those casino owners? I’m not greedy. Gambling can initiate greed. You want more, or you want to get it back. You have to pick a number, and that’s my number. It’s all relative to what you feel comfortable with. Mine may vary from yours, and ours may vary from a lot of people. It doesn’t take much to beat my head in. Have I lost a lot? Sure. Have I won a lot? Sure. What’s considered a lot? I have satisfied myself both ways. For me, that’s my enjoyment.
MRS: I see there’s a wine cellar here in your house. Tell me about it. Is it your interest or your wife, Juanita’s?
JORDAN: I am a Grade C wine drinker or connoisseur. My wife is a B. She got me involved. Although she’s not the only person who got me interested. When I signed with Bijan fragrances, Mr. Bijan took me out one day and we had dinner. He got me a bottle of 1961 Château Margaux. And I fell in love with Bordeaux.
MRS: [Laughter] That’s not a C wine!
JORDAN: Obviously it’s the top of the line, granted that. Then I started getting more involved with Bordeaux. A good friend of mine, Mario Lemieux, is a big-time wine drinker. I go to a lot of his golf tournaments, and he taught me how to go to Sotheby’s and buy at auction. I do have a strong interest in wine. But my wife’s is a lot stronger. She’s taken classes and she goes to wine tastings and things of that nature. I’m not quite at that level, because I like to do it on my own. I enjoy wine. I truly, truly enjoy wine.
MRS: There is one wine story in the research I did. It’s something about a meeting you were having with David Falk, and you started ordering wine to shut him up?
JORDAN: Yeah. We had a dinner meeting and I couldn’t get a word in. The meal was on his company bill. Anytime he orders wine, or orders anything, he checks the price. But that night he was taking time out from what we were talking about to make sure about the price. So now I say, Give me the most expensive wine, and he’s picking up the tab. Then, I say, Every time you interrupt what we’re talking about, I’m going to order another bottle. When I started ordering the ’61s, I quieted him right down, and we got through the conversation. That is a true story.
MRS: Cigars? We’re sitting here. We’re smoking a Cuban Monty No. 2. Nothing wrong with that. I went through your humidor here; you have a great selection. When did you first get into cigars?
JORDAN: I smoked my first cigar in 1991, when we won the championship. Up to that point, I had never smoked a cigar, never smoked anything. We won the championship, and Jerry Reinsdorf gave me one of his cigars. He’s a big cigar smoker.
The next time I received a cigar was from my good friend, Ahmad Rashad. He used to get these Churchills from Las Vegas that were dipped in rum. I wouldn’t smoke them, but I would sit there and chew on them. I got to the point where it became very relaxing.
In Chicago, I tell people this, and they have to understand the context of what happened. We had to be to the stadium at 6 o’clock for home games, and traffic was so bad it would take us an hour and 15 or an hour and 30 minutes to drive. So now I’m sitting in a car for almost an hour and a half, and I’m very tense. I’m worried about the traffic. So I started smoking a cigar going to the games. In 1993. It became a ritual for every home game.
MRS: What cigar?
JORDAN: At the time, I started out with the Hoyo de Monterrey Double Corona.
MRS: That’s a good hour smoke.
JORDAN: Taking my time. I never rushed. As soon as I walked in, Phil [Jackson] would say, OK, you had a long drive. It became such a relaxing thing to do. Not many people know about it. When they read this, they’ll know that each and every day for a home game, I smoked a cigar. I wanted that feeling of success, and relaxation. It’s the most relaxing thing.
MRS: People don’t understand. When I’m in the office and I have a problem, I light a cigar, and my mind expands and I’m able to solve the problem.
JORDAN: It is the most relaxing thing. Every time I get to a point where everything is coming at me, I would rather just sit back and smoke a cigar and relax.
MRS: What are your favorite cigars today?
JORDAN: Partagas Lusitanias. I love those. And I’m in love with all Cubans. I’ve become a big Cuban cigar smoker. I gradually worked my way up from Las Vegas rum-dipped to all the different types.
MRS: What size cigar do you like?
JORDAN: Depends on the time, depends on the day, depends on what I’m doing. If I’m in a rush, I can go for a robusto—not that it’s not going to be rushing, but it’s smaller.
MRS: You ever have an Epicure No. 2?
MRS: Partagas Serie D?
JORDAN: Sure. You’ve got me smoking these Montecristo No. 2s, and these are so strong. If I hadn’t had anything to eat, I wouldn’t touch this. These are for the end of the night, and I’m getting ready for the end of the day. If I had to smoke a cigar that I can get through, that would be an Esplendido. I can get through those.
MRS: So, today, when do you smoke?
JORDAN: I already smoked today. I went to work out, and I had a cigar on the way, fighting the traffic the whole way.
MRS: What kind of cigar did you smoke this morning?
JORDAN: I had a Cohiba Siglo II.
MRS: Have you ever been to a cigar factory?
JORDAN: No, and it’s my biggest dream to visit Cuba and visit some of these factories. Obviously with the embargo it’s a little difficult.
MRS: Dominican Republic, Honduras, Nicaragua. Maybe we will have to take a tour.
JORDAN: I’d love to go. I’m open. I have a strong interest. Don’t ask me how many a day I smoke.
MRS: I don’t tell people how many I smoke a day, either. Arnold Schwarzenegger—I believe we can describe him as a successful actor. Huge cigar guy. Now he’s the governor of California.
JORDAN: No! No! No! Not interested.
MRS: Have you ever in your weakest moment thought about going into politics?
JORDAN: No, I just haven’t had a strong passion for politics.
MRS: What do you think about public people in important positions who smoke, including the current president of the United States, who doesn’t want people to know. But then there are guys like Arnold, who built a tent behind the capitol building in Sacramento so he could smoke. And there’s Rudy Giuliani. It’s a pleasure of his. Obviously, you don’t think there’s anything wrong with smoking a fine cigar, but what about other people who enjoy cigars and aren’t willing to at least acknowledge that?
JORDAN: Yeah, I think about it. I put myself in that position early on because of the negative influence that it is perceived to be. Drinking is, too. A lot of people drink.
MRS: But wine today is more accepted.
JORDAN: But alcohol is alcohol, no matter how you look at it. I’ve come to grips with it, however, and even sitting down to talk with you is part of my decision. I’m stepping away from that public image, from that other self that’s been around for so many years. These are the things that I enjoy. These are the passions that help me get from point A to point B. The relaxation that I get from it.
Certain people may want to know that. That’s one of the reasons I’m doing this with your magazine. I’m not endorsing anything, or telling kids they should pick up cigar smoking or drink beer. These are things that I enjoy. This is my passion. They are some of the things that I like to do.
At some point, you have to take your life back from the public, to enjoy it. And I’m at that stage where now I’m taking my life back from the public and doing the things that I enjoy doing. Like motorcycle riding, which I couldn’t do because I had this situation with my contracts and my commitments to the game. But I grew up riding a motorcycle, and now I’m doing more of those things I like. And I’m enjoying myself.
People have to understand that I’m still a person, and there are things that I enjoy doing. Yes, I enjoy working with kids and giving them positive things to think about, about how to get from where they are to where they want to be. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t be the person that I want to be and do the things that I want to do.
MRS: That’s so important. Basically you’re saying, I’m going private. Being true to myself.