Milwaukee Bucks: Revisiting when Michael Jordan nearly bought the team

(Photo by ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT/AFP via Getty Images)
(Photo by ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT/AFP via Getty Images) /

Eager to buy a team immediately after retiring, Michael Jordan came very close to buying the Milwaukee Bucks from Herb Kohl.

When Michael Jordan‘s illustrious playing career came to an end in the summer of 2003, he wasted little time in attempting to kickstart the next stage of his NBA journey.

With a combination of wealth, power, and influence that few, if any, NBA players will ever know, Jordan wanted to make the jump into ownership in record time, and the Milwaukee Bucks almost offered him the perfect opportunity to do just that.

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As detailed by The Athletic’s Joe Vardon ($), within a month of playing his final game as a player, Jordan entered into negotiations with then Bucks owner Sen. Herb Kohl on the possibility of purchasing the franchise.

A couple of years on from their near-miss in the 2001 Eastern Conference Finals, the Bucks had failed to kick on and channel that momentum into a more sustained bout of being competitive among the league’s elite.

At the time of Jordan’s interest, the level of dysfunction within the Bucks was really starting to kick up too, as Ray Allen had infamously been traded away to Seattle just a couple of months prior, as the Bucks went on to win 42 games and then lose 4-2 to the New Jersey Nets in the opening round of the postseason.

With Jordan disappointed not to have been welcomed into a high profile role with the Wizards once his playing career came to a close, his attention turned elsewhere.

Eager to keep Jordan involved in the league in a meaningful capacity, then NBA commissioner David Stern set up meetings for Jordan with five organizations, before then actively moving toward brokering a deal with the Bucks, who had been up for sale for a year at that point. As Sam Smith reported in the Chicago Tribune at that time:

"“League sources said Stern invited Jordan to New York last month to meet with representatives of five teams about full or partial ownership. They were believed to be Charlotte, Atlanta, Miami, San Antonio and Milwaukee. Because the Bucks have been for sale for a year, Stern and Jordan pursued that deal.”"

According to Vardon’s reporting, the sale would have been valued at between $150-200 million. But as Smith had outlined, the process was not that simple as there was a lack of trust on Milwaukee’s part.

"“But there was considerable angst in Milwaukee about Jordan because he has no connections to Wisconsin and no one in his group is from the state. The fear was Jordan would move the franchise or leverage local officials into building a new arena or changing the lease terms for the Bradley Center.”"

When the deal ultimately fell apart, it seemed as if that fear proved to be too much for Kohl, who remained deeply committed to ensuring the Bucks remained in Milwaukee right up until he eventually sold the team to the current ownership group in 2014.

ESPN had reported a tentative agreement between Jordan and Kohl, but the Bucks owner went on to release the following statement just days later, officially putting an end to the speculation:

"“I have decided not to sell the Milwaukee Bucks at this time, and will continue to own them, improve them, and commit them to remaining in Wisconsin.”"

As much as the obvious appeal of a high profile name such as Jordan owning the team would have led to some excitement, almost two decades on, it’s safe to say everything worked out as best as it could have been hoped for from a Bucks perspective.

When Kohl did eventually sell the team, he did so with an agreement in place that ensured the franchise’s future would remain in Milwaukee, and handed over the stewardship to an ownership group that has since demonstrated their commitment to making the city a major basketball town in a way it hasn’t been since the 1970s.

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As for Jordan, who went on to purchase the Charlotte Hornets, his skills as an owner have yet to match up to the greatness he demonstrated on the court as a player.