Why being the greatest doesn’t always translate to success

It’s that time in the day where you can have a break, stop thinking about work, and start thinking about something else. Take a breather, and think about basketball. Yes, basketball. Whether you fall into the category of the NBA superfan like Jack Nicholson, or you have never seen a game, there’s still a good chance you know who Michael Jordan is.


Arguably the “Greatest Of All Time” or “GOAT” in basketball, Michael Jordan is practically a king of the sport, having won 6 NBA championships with the Chicago Bulls between 1991 through to 1998, not including his numerous other accolades.


You might automatically think that such success on the court would translate to boardroom success. And yet, that’s not always how things pan out.


In 2006, Jordan bought the Charlotte Bobcats, and at the end of its 2011 to 2012 season, the Bobcats completed the worst season in entire NBA history.


Where did Jordan drop the ball? Was his GOAT status simply overstated and misinterpreted as a form of business acumen?


Surprisingly there are many similarities between running an NBA team and a mere “Mum and Dad” operation.


Firstly, it starts with the understanding that you are not always the best person for the job. Success in any situation requires the right people with the right skills working in the right positions, and while you might believe that’s you, it’s wise to think about the end result. In Jordan’s case, he drafted Kwame Brown and traded for DeSagana Diop, two player decisions which have been criticised and could easily be in the top ten worst owner decisions in the NBA’s long and established history.


After a horrific few years in the driver’s seat, Jordan came to the realisation that his decisions around player management was simply failing, and while his skills of dribbling, defending, and shooting played well on the court, outside was a different reality. In 2011, he bought Rich Cho in to manage the team efficiently. Better known as “Trader Cho”, his responsibility was in essence to “put the right people in the right places”, assembling a roster of talented and dynamic players who could win games night after night.


However, nothing good comes from micromanaging staff, and after placing the right people in the right positions, the worst thing an owner or manager can do is micromanage. No amount of micromanagement ever leaves a team in a better position, fostering resentment and leading to stressful working environments, not to mention doing nothing for staff retention.


After bringing “Trader Cho” in, Jordan made his second best decision as owner: he took a step back. He promised his front office staff that he would let them do their jobs without his shadow hanging over them and every decision they made. He would no longer micromanage the organisation and would trust his team and the process.


Jordan may have been the guy you get the ball to in Game 7 with 0.21 seconds remaining and the player you could totally rely on, because without question, his GOAT status is unchallenged. He was and is the greatest, but he’s also the owner of the team with the worst record in NBA history.


The latter was not a reflection on his player ability, but on his managerial skills, and like so many owners and managers, he made one critical mistake when taking over his beloved Bobcats: he thought his on-court competitiveness would easily translate to ownership success.


Like all great managers, however, Jordan proved he had the capability to improve, learning from his failures and making him not just a better owner, but a better manager and business-person altogether. For that, he has discovered that while he may be the greatest, he only truly achieves that status when he allows the right people to do their jobs in the right places, and fosters growth in everything he manages.