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One-on-One with Michael Jordan

Michael Jordan sits down for an exclusive interview with Marvin R. Shanken, Editor and Publisher of Cigar Aficionado.

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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.
Ron Comrie Lakewood Ranch, Florida, United States, December 26, 2012 1:49pm ET
Can you please tell me the name/style of the Movado watch Michael Jordan is wearing on the cover photo? Thanks.

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