He’s On Fire: An NBA Legend Ramps Up His Giving, With an Eye on Poverty

photo:  lev radin/shutterstock

photo:  lev radin/shutterstock

Last year, I wrote about two major gifts by hoops legend-turned-Charlotte Hornets owner Michael Jordan. His Airness gave $2 million to improve community-police relations and gave $5 million to the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.

At the time, we mentioned that the then 53-year-old’s wealth is a big deal, and that as the world’s richest athlete, Jordan was just entering his philanthropic prime. (In the 1990s, MJ had a foundation, but it has since dissolved). Did these seven-figure gifts from His Airness spell greater giving down the line?

Well, Jordan is now a year older, and his Forbes net worth currently sits at a cool $1.39 billion. The Brooklyn native takes up residence in places like Florida and Utah, where he perhaps continues to torment the Utah Jazz. He also owns two homes in the Charlotte area where his Hornets recently kicked off another NBA season. And while Jordan’s primary residence is in Jupiter, Florida, a representative for Jordan said that he considers Charlotte to be his second home. MJ grew up in Wilmington and began his winning ways at UNC-Chapel Hill.

This perhaps starts to explain Jordan’s recent philanthropic splash, a $7 million donation to launch two medical clinics in disenfranchised Charlotte communities. The funds will support the Novant Health Michael Jordan Family Clinics set for construction in north and northwest Charlotte.

Jordan has had a long relationship with Novant, the official healthcare provider of the Charlotte NBA franchise since 2004, when they were then known as the Charlotte Bobcats. Meanwhile, Novant’s chief rival, the Carolinas HealthCare System, has been associated with the Carolina Panthers.

It’s also worth noting that the Hornets’ social responsibility efforts have identified wellness as a key issue in Charlotte, as well as education, hunger and support of the military and youth programs. What’s more, Jordan himself came across a 2014 Harvard and UC Berkeley study that found poor children in Charlotte have the worst odds of those in any major U.S. city to lift themselves out of poverty.

The good news is that the challenges facing Charlotte's low-income population have been getting new attention, lately. Over two years ago, civic leaders formed the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Opportunity Task Force to explore how to increase opportunity in the city, and last March, the group unveiled a wide-ranging set of recommendations

Access to healthcare, especially mental health services, is among the problems facing poor areas of Charlotte, and that's where Jordan's gift comes in. Jordan’s rep said that “Michael really wanted to do something personally, he and his family, in the North Carolina area, separate from the work we’ve done with the Hornets.” Jordan added that he hoped the clinics  “will help provide a brighter and healthier future for the children and families they serve.”

According to Novant calculations, over five years, the Jordan clinics will care for an estimated 35,000 children and adults who currently don’t have access to primary and preventive care or who use the emergency room for non-urgent medical needs.

Given that Jordan has been a major global phenomenon for many decades, it’s easy to forget how young he still is, and with his increasing outspokenness on social issues, combined with several major gifts in recent months, Michael Jordan should be watched very carefully going forward.  

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