Michael Jordan made headlines earlier this season for taking rookie Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to school and some fans rolled their eyes and chalked this up to yet another example of Jordan’s competitive nature messing with the head of a talented young player.
Turns out that Jordan has ditched his corporate suit and has spent a substantial amount of time working with Charlotte’s young players. Since training camp kicked off, he has been a subtle but valuable addition to a lot of Charlotte’s practices and team meetings throughout this season.
Jordan has been knocked for being a bad owner because of some of his team’s questionable moves, but he has always commanded respect on the hardwood. This season he’s taken breaks from hitting the golf course and his front office duties to work up a sweat during Charlotte’s practices.
Bobcats coach Mike Dunlap was asked over the weekend how the team is preparing second-year point guard Kemba Walker for the future and Jordan’s name was brought up as an integral part of Walker’s growth.
“You can always have MJ who drops in periodically to kindly, but not overwhelmingly, remind Kemba that this is his sophomore year,” Dunlap told the media before his team’s game against Toronto. “He’ll go through four or five points with Kemba and that’s very powerful.”
It’s clear that having the chance to pick the brain of a legend is something Walker values. Despite Jordan turning 50 last month, there’s still a level of awe players experience when working with Jordan.
“It’s cool to have the best player who ever played around and be able to have the luxury to go to him and ask question,” Walker admitted. “It’s the best, actually. Especially for us as a young team to have the best player ever around is pretty cool.”
But it’s not just Walker and Kidd-Gilchrist that have garnered the attention and tutelage from Jordan. He has been willing to work with Charlotte’s other younger players like Gerald Henderson and Byron Mullens as well.
“The thing about Michael is that he doesn’t enable all the time,” Dunlap explained. “He’ll pop a guy if he doesn’t think he’s playing hard. But he doesn’t do it a lot because he knows that can be tough on a young guy. I just think he’s great at it. He shows a greatness in how he moves a player up the ladder.”
One of the players that has received Jordan’s tutelage and has shown solid gains is Henderson. The talented scorer only shot 35 per cent from the field his rookie season but he has adjusted to the rigours of playing in the NBA. This year, he is shooting 45 per cent from the field and 36 per cent from the beyond the arc.
Henderson’s on pace to score the most points of any of his four seasons in the league and has embraced being one of the primary scoring options for Charlotte this season.
Throw in a career-high 35 points against Boston last week and it’s clear Henderson’s starting to find his confidence in the NBA.
“He has challenged Henderson to be more consistent and over the last three weeks the facts are showing he’s trending that way,” Dunlap boasted. “So I think MJ’s comments have been really good for Gerald’s growth and development. There’s an example and I think Byron Mullens is another guy who I think quietly in training camp MJ said, ‘hey, here’s your challenge this year’ and until he got hurt his numbers were phenomenal rebounding wise. His injury has slowed his development but hasn’t stopped it.”
While former first overall draft pick Kwame Brown probably having a laugh over this new, lighter side to Jordan, it’s clear age has helped Jordan to mellow out a bit and become a better leader.
The result is Charlotte’s young players have an invaluable asset to pick the brain of and legend that will help challenge them to grow.