Keeping Score

Is Michael Jordan Bold or Boneheaded as an Owner?

The Charlotte Bobcats owner hired a college assistant to coach his dismal team. Can the unconventional move work?

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Jeff Siner / Charlotte Observer / MCT / Getty Images

Michael Jordan watches players run through predraft workouts on Monday, June 18, 2012, in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Michael Jordan‘s penchant for gambling is no secret. He was once spotted at an Atlantic City casino, reportedly at 2:30 am, before a playoff game: though Jordan and the Bulls lost to the New York Knicks the next night – and Jordan insisted he was in bed by 1 a.m. – they won the series, of course. At the Barcelona Olympics, Jordan would stay up until 5 am playing cards with Charles Barkley and Magic Johnson, as the new NBA TV documentary, and Jack McCallum’s excellent book about the 1992 Dream Team, points out. You can bet they weren’t playing for pennies.

Jordan hasn’t strayed far from his high-roller instincts: as owner of the Charlotte Bobcats, who finished this NBA season with the lowest winning percentage in league history, he’s made the unprecedented move of tapping an assistant coach from a mediocre college team to be his new head coach.

No one who follows basketball ever imaged that the guy coaching St. John’s University while head coach Steve Lavin recovered from prostate cancer surgery – assistant coach Mike Dunlap – would be roaming an NBA sideline next season. Yet Dunlap, 55, is taking over the 7-59 Bobcats. He was once a head coach – for California State Lutheran University, an Australian pro team, and Metropolitan State College of Denver.  He spent two years as an assistant for George Karl in Denver, and over the past three years, was a college assistant at Arizona, Oregon, and St. John’s, respectively. That doesn’t seem like an NBA-caliber resume.

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But so what? Coaching is more than your latest stop. Hundreds of coaches are masters of the craft in high school, college, and the NBA – heck, even grade school. You’ve never heard of them, because there’s a limited supply of “big-time” basketball jobs. But they are terrific, and can coach at any level. Sure, the interpersonal, and game management, skill sets are much different for an NBA coach than a college or high school coach. But if you’re smart, you’ll adjust.

And in basketball circles, Dunlap’s brain has an outstanding rep. Plus, he won two Division II national titles at Metropolitan State.  “Name any top level, elite coach in the game – the only difference between Mike and them is their address,” Karl told the St. Johns website. “There is no higher level of coaching ability than his. There is absolutely no one better.”

Kudos to Jordan for making a move that is more sensible than people think. Charlotte fans may scream that their owner is being cheap: Dunlap won’t command the salary of, say, a Phil Jackson or Jerry Sloan, the former Utah Jazz coach who was a candidate for the job before taking himself out of the running. But maybe Jordan isn’t overpaying for an overvalued position.

No matter, Jordan is still taking a risk. His reputation as an owner is dismal – Charlotte’s record speaks for itself. And if Dunlap bombs, it will sink even lower. Believe it or not, that’s still possible.

(MORE: A Myth Debunked: Was Michael Jordan Really Cut From His High School Team)