ELKHART LAKE, Wis. -- Just after 11 a.m. yesterday, Michael Jordan entered the Road America facility with an eager stride, thermos and cigar in hand, a glint in his eye as he waited for a day of racing to begin.
A foreboding, gray sky draped over the distant hilltops. Jordan hardly noticed. The former Chicago Bulls great took a perch on the deck, offering an enthusiastic wave to his Jordan Suzuki team prepping across the track.
In 2004 - a few months after a late-night encounter with other riders at a downtown Chicago gas station - Jordan formed his own motorcycle racing team, Michael Jordan Motorsports, fielding racers in the AMA Superbike and Superstock series.
But before the waterlogged main races yesterday, Jordan kicked up his blindingly white Nikes for a one-on-one interview, discussing a range of topics.
On the business side of Jordan Suzuki:
I think it's more brand recognition than anything. It's not like I sell that many more basketball shoes or T-shirts or whatever. To me, it's a hobby. I don't look at it from the business standpoint. The Hondas, the Yamahas, the Suzukis, they're selling motorcycles. Me, I'm selling tennis shoes.
On what's changed for him as an executive with the Charlotte Bobcats:
Final say-so, making more of the decisions, putting together my team to understand the game the way I understand the game. I didn't think I had enough time in Washington. I felt like we turned the corner financially, but we never really got the chance to take it further. This way, with me invested, I have the final say-so, I think we're going to be fine. I think I'm going to be able to prove to people that [Washington] was a good experience for me. I felt we were successful - most people didn't because we didn't make the playoffs. But the business of basketball was strong there in Washington, and a lot of it had to do with my team and the people I brought in. There's some retribution I want to pay back for that. That's the competitive nature I have.
On the ascendance of Cleveland and LeBron James:
I think you see some growth. Expectations have been there, the signs have been there. What just transpired was something I felt was needed for the league, was needed for Cleveland, was needed for LeBron.
On whether James made "The Leap":
He showed signs. Making "The Leap" is where you do it every single night. It's expected of you, and you do it. That, to me, is "The Leap." Not one game, not two games. It's consistent. Every defense comes in and they focus on you and you still impact the game. I think he's shown signs of that. I think he's going to continue to grow with that. The test is going to come for him to consistently do that every single night, when everybody expects it. And he expects it of himself. But he took a big step in that right direction in this last series. This next series is going to say, "How far do you want to take it?"
On Kobe Bryant and his frustration:
Frustration is a part of the game, especially with a competitor. You want to win so bad, and you've been there, and you want to get back there - and you feel it hasn't really happened that way, and you look for reasons why. I think the unfortunate thing is, we judge him in a very emotional state. He's watching these young kids continue to play, and he's not. It gets at him. And he starts looking for reasons.
That's understandable, but I think he's got a good scenario over there - a good GM, a good coach. ... As basketball gets away and summer comes. I think he'll mellow back.
On son Jeff going to Illinois:
I'm happy for Jeff. It's easy for a parent to come in and say, "I think you should go to North Carolina, because that's where I went and I'd like to see you follow in my footsteps." No - that, to me, would've been a tough move for him because of the expectations.
On Scottie Pippen's comments that teams would rather have a "Scottie" than a "Michael":
There's some truth to that. The one thing I'm never going to do is demean or diminish the importance of Scottie Pippen as a wingman or as my teammate. Everybody needs, I think, a Scottie Pippen. Most of the successful teams are going to need a Michael Jordan. It's hard to say one without the other. Can you win with one and not the other? I don't know. I have yet to see that, in some respects.
I think you're always going to have a leader and you're going to have someone to support that leader. And that's how I look at it. I take [his comments] in a positive way.
I still think you need a Michael Jordan, you need that guy who's going to take that big shot, that's going to give the team confidence. And you need a guy like Scottie Pippen, who is not on the high end of that vocal leader, but he's not that far off of it.
On the NBA and the game:
For so long, the league was at this high pinnacle, because of so many great stars, mature stars. Now the league is a lot younger, and it's going to take time for them to get themselves back up to that pinnacle, if they can get back up to that point. I'm not guaranteeing that it will. I think it's going to take a different direction, but it's going to sustain.
Brian Hamilton writes for the Chicago Tribune.