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Jordan’s aura too big to match


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There’s a reason Michael Jordan’s globally recognized logo is of him as a basketball player and not as an NBA executive.

In the latter his feet would never leave the ground.

Yet to an impressionable 23-year-old like Lance Stephenson, MJ at 51 remains cutting-edge cool despite past administrative missteps.

He is the hoops yardstick in virtually every way, and it will be this way as long as we have easily accessible film footage reminding us of Jordan the player.

When said yardstick boarded a private jet and flew all the way to Las Vegas to try out his best sales pitch, Stephenson was going to listen.

Stephenson signed early Wednesday morning to be a member of Jordan’s Charlotte Hornets for no less than the next three seasons.

One NBA icon (Indiana Pacers president Larry Bird) snubbed. Another icon (Jordan) thrilled.

Indiana’s extremely generous contract offer of five years for $44 million equates to $8.8 million per season. Compare this to the $9 mil Stephenson will pocket annually in Charlotte and, yes, it’s beyond puzzling.

My feeling is Stephenson would still be with the Pacers if anyone other than Jordan was the Hornets owner.

Understandably intoxicated by the MJ aura, the versatile 6-foot-5 guard/forward opted for the teal-coated upstart franchise rather than stay with the Pacers, a legitimate title contender with Stephenson in the lineup.

Give Jordan credit. He played his strength and won.

Give Stephenson credit. Sensing his ear-blowing ways were rubbing a growing percentage of Pacers fans and teammates the wrong way, he opted for a change of scenery and still netted a substantial pay increase.

Give the Pacers credit.

They presented a contract

offer that was more than fair to an erratic and temperamental four-year veteran who has never been an NBA All-Star, but lost out.

Instead of continuing to play alongside a budding superstar like Paul George, Stephenson now gets to start in the backcourt with Hornets point guard Kemba Walker and drop entry passes to 6-10 center Al Jefferson.

A No. 8 seed in last season’s Eastern Conference playoffs, expect Charlotte to improve to 7 or 6 status with Stephenson on the roster.

But no higher.

Indiana, meanwhile, can either insert newly acquired 6-6 swingman C.J. Miles into Stephenson’s old starting spot or come up with a different plan.

Anticipate George’s game and reputation to step forward in a big way in 2014-15 with Stephenson gone. Still the Pacers will have a hard time living up to the product responsible for two straight Eastern Conference Finals appearances.

Part of me is happy for Stephenson, but I feel for Bird. French Lick’s favorite son poured more patience and loyalty into Stephenson than others in his position would have.

It was a strange union, all right — the country kid from southern Indiana steadfast in his belief of the ticking time bomb from the streets of New York City.

I remember walking by the large window at the north end of Bankers Life Fieldhouse last summer, the one that with blinds open allows passers-by to see the practice court used by the Pacers and the WNBA’s Indiana Fever.

The gym on this day had only two occupants — a sweat-coated Stephenson, who was tirelessly releasing perimeter jump shots from various points on the floor, and Bird, seated in a folding chair with arms crossed and not saying a word.

Through good times and bad, inside gyms noisy and silent, Bird always had Lance’s back.

It will be interesting to see if Jordan does, too.

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