When basketball legend Michael Jordan became majority owner of the Charlotte Hornets in 2010, he promised to rebuild the team’s connection to Charlotteans, including supporting charitable causes in the community.
On Monday, Jordan continued his track record of making good on that pledge by unveiling a $500,000 investment in charities working with literacy. As in the past, Jordan shared the spotlight with other corporate donors, Bank of America and Lowe’s, who partnered to help promote the cause. The team didn’t supply a breakdown of how much was given by the partners.
The $500,000 includes not only cash for charities but also the cost of building and stocking 18 libraries with books at preschools, child care centers, community centers and education nonprofits in the city’s low-income areas.
That’s double the amount given last year.
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The announcement came prior to the Hornets’ annual day of community service, called Swarm to Serve, which had nearly 400 volunteers building the 18 libraries across the city. The volunteers included Hornets staffers as well as employees from Bank of America and Lowe’s.
“When I took over majority control of the team, one of the biggest impacts I wanted ... was to reconnect back to the community,” Jordan told hundreds of volunteers gathered Monday at Time Warner Cable Arena for the day of service. “I felt (that connection) was lost a little bit with the previous ownership, and I felt it was very important.”
“Six years later, here we are. ... I am very proud of the commitment of the organization to the community. ... My dedication, my drive, is to continue to connect with this community.”
That commitment has included both high-profile grants and quiet, anonymous gifts to causes big and small.
Since becoming majority owner of the Hornets, Jordan and the team have given away more than $3 million for causes related to education, hunger, wellness and the military.
Jordan’s push to repair the team’s philanthropic image came after former owners made a series of missteps, including a 2008 decision by former owner Robert Johnson to lay off the entire community relations staff. They were the ones responsible for coordinating team donations, community service projects and other acts of kindness. As a result, the team’s philanthropy was reduced to a level most people didn’t notice, and there was no definitive strategy.
Team President and Chief Operating Officer Fred Whitfield said part of Jordan’s philosophy is to partner with other community leaders to raise the visibility of the team’s causes.
“Clearly, with our owner being who he is ... it has heightened the visibility of our our efforts,” he said. “But partnering with organizations like Bank of America and Lowe’s makes our combined efforts greater than what any one of us could do single-handedly.”
An early example of Jordan’s influence came in 2010, when he gave $250,000 to save Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ middle school sports programs. The following year, Hendrick Automotive Group gave a similar gift to the cause.
Among the local issues Jordan has devoted the most attention to is education, specifically literacy. The $500,000 investment unveiled Monday includes cash for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Library Foundation, Freedom School Partners, Child Care Resources Inc., and CrossRoads Corp.
The charities say their causes will benefit not just from the money but from positive publicity of being connected to Jordan and the team. Carolyn Hazeldine of Child Care Resources Inc. says Jordan is also using his celebrity to elevate issues.
“He’s a local celebrity who can give to a lot of causes, but when he chooses to give to early literacy, it puts a face on the issue,” she said. “It tells people in the community that this is important.”
The Hornets Swarm to Service project Monday was the largest since Jordan took over the team, including double the investment made in 2015. The $250,000 awarded last year launched a Charlotte Hornets Teacher Innovation Fund that will provide money for teachers to try new classroom strategies.
In addition to building 18 libraries Monday, the team intends to stock the shelves. Three of the libraries will have 1,500 books each, with the remaining 15 holding 500 books each.