CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- NBA Commissioner David Stern knows how to emote: I've heard him combative, charming, intellectual, dismissive and flippant, and that was all in the same press conference.
Over the phone Friday morning, I heard just one mood in Stern's voice -- relieved.
This Bobcats ownership transfer is nearly complete, and Stern has shepherded it along. He's relieved Michael Jordan stepped up to buy the team because -- my words, not Stern's -- Jordan is the last-best hope to make Charlotte thrive again as an NBA market.
Stern isn't easily defeated; his insistence not to give up on the WNBA demonstrates that. He understands the disconnect between Charlotte and the NBA (yes, this town really did once lead the league in attendance) wasn't particularly the town's fault.
Now Stern has the greatest player in the sport's history fired up to fix this mess. The fact that Jordan grew up in North Carolina and won a national championship with the Tar Heels makes it all the better.
"It's an extraordinary thing," Stern said of an iconic player buying a team. "To have players evolve and grow into that role is really the next thing. Magic (Johnson) is an investor in the Lakers and Larry Bird is in the management of one of our teams.
"We need this to happen."
Sure they need Jordan. More importantly they need an engaged Jordan. That word -- "engaged" -- is the one coach Larry Brown chose last spring to describe what he and everyone in the franchise needs from Jordan.
Jordan hasn't always been around. I don't entirely blame him for that, since the team wasn't really his. Also, things could improve only so much until Bob Johnson made an exit.
From naming the team after himself to starting a regional sports network virtually no one could watch to berating the local business community for not buying enough tickets, Johnson squandered whatever goodwill he had. There wasn't much goodwill to start with, due to the hangover from the Hornets' nasty departure.
Final word on Johnson: He really accomplished something, making Charlotte miss George Shinn.
Reaching the playoffs will help, but that won't entirely solve the Bobcats' perception problem. Jordan always says he won't be treated like a "show pony." I respect that, but since the losses -- tens of millions -- will soon pile on his balance sheet, he'd better get more involved with the marketing side.
Stern says Jordan gets all that. Stern and Jordan met recently, and Stern walked away convinced Jordan is driven to fix whatever is wrong. Stern isn't easily snowed, so Jordan must have made his case eloquently.
Jordan can be eloquent when it serves him. He doesn't often explain himself, and maybe that should change.
The first step in selling this town on your vision is actively sharing it.