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Bobcats hire Jordan confidante as COO
By TIM WHITMIRE, Associated Press Writer
Jul 17, 2006 - 11:29:00 PM

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Fred Whitfield, a close friend, confidante and business partner of Bobcats co-owner Michael Jordan for more than 25 years, has inherited the challenge of selling the team to Charlotte.

Fred Whitfield answers a question during a news conference in Charlotte, N.C., Monday, July 17, 2006, after being named president and COO of the Bobcats Sports and Entertainment, overseeing the Charlotte Bobcats, Charlotte Sting and the Charlotte Bobcats Arena. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

Whitfield was hired Monday as the new president and chief operating officer of Bobcats Sports & Entertainment, the company that owns the Bobcats, the WNBA's Charlotte Sting and the teams' home arena in downtown Charlotte.

Bobcats owner Bob Johnson said Jordan suggested Whitfield for the job.

Whitfield, who most recently has helped run the Brand Jordan division of Nike, also worked with Jordan for the Washington Wizards earlier this decade. There, he was director of player personnel and assistant legal counsel for the team.

Johnson said he ran Whitfield by other owners and team leaders and, "It all came up aces."

"It was an easy decision for me," Johnson said. "I was glad that Michael suggested him."

Johnson began searching for a new team president following the May departure of Ed Tapscott, who had overseen business and basketball operations for the Bobcats since their inception. Tapscott, whom Johnson had promoted just weeks earlier, resigned rather than accept a demotion.

Whitfield, a native of Greensboro and a resident of Charlotte during the 1990s, said he recognizes the immense challenge facing the team, which ranked 22nd of 30 NBA teams last season in home attendance, despite playing in a brand-new arena.

Entering their third season in the league, the Bobcats have struggled to attract fans in a market turned off by the 2002 departure of the Hornets for New Orleans, and a long and ugly fight over whether to build a downtown arena.

"I'm not foolish in thinking we can turn this thing around overnight," Whitfield said. "You kind of get a feeling ... that people aren't as excited as they were when the Hornets were selling out night after night every year."

The Bobcats sold out just seven of 41 home games last season at their new building and still haven't sold naming rights to the arena. The team is also locked in a long-term television contract that airs most games on a cable-only news channel.

Whitfield said some fans are understandably waiting for the team to start winning.

"I think that the Charlotte community is a very sophisticated community," he said. "I don't think you can trick them. I don't think you can fool them."

Whitfield played basketball at Campbell University, located in Buies Creek, and served as a graduate assistant at the school while earning his MBA in the early 1980s. He and Jordan met at a basketball camp run by Campbell's coach that Jordan attended as a rising high school senior; Whitfield was working as a counselor.

The two became friends and stayed close through Jordan's days at North Carolina and in the NBA.

After earning a law degree at N.C. Central University in Durham, Whitfield joined the sports management firm run by Jordan's agent David Falk, overseeing the Carolinas from Charlotte. He then worked as director of player development for Nike's basketball division, recruiting and signing players to endorsement contracts before joining the Wizards when Jordan purchased a share of that team in 2000.

After Jordan was ousted from Washington in 2003 by owner Abe Pollin, Whitfield went back to work at Nike, overseeing selection of athletes and contracts for Brand Jordan, an elite group of Nike-endorsed athletes.

Copyright 2007 - MOP Squad Sports

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