CHARLOTTE, N.C. (Deon Roberts and Rick Bonnell | The Charlotte Observer) - Hornets owner Michael Jordan is donating $7 million to launch two medical clinics in troubled Charlotte communities, in one of the largest gifts ever from the basketball legend with deep ties to North Carolina.
Novant Health is expected on Monday to announce Jordan's personal gift, which will fund Novant Health Michael Jordan Family Clinics to be built in north and northwest Charlotte. One will be at 3149 and 3153 Freedom Drive; the other will be in the Brightwalk development on Statesville Avenue.
Officials said the clinics will target a crescent-shaped region, hugging roughly an area north of uptown's skyscrapers, home to some of the city's densest concentrations of poverty. Opening of the clinics is projected for late 2020.
Jordan spokeswoman Estee Portnoy said Jordan began having conversations with Winston-Salem-based Novant – for years the Hornets' official health care provider – about 16 months ago as he sought ways to help poor populations in Charlotte.
She said Jordan was largely spurred by a 2014 study from Harvard and the University of California at Berkeley that found poor children in Charlotte have the worst odds of those in any big U.S. city to lift themselves out of poverty. That report, which stunned many in the community, led to the creation of a Charlotte-Mecklenburg task force charged with identifying ways to address the city's economic-mobility problems.
"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," Portnoy said, adding that the idea for the clinics specifically emerged during the Novant discussions.
In a statement, Jordan said he was proud to partner with Novant "to bring critical health services to under-served areas of Charlotte and the thousands of North Carolinians with limited access to health care."
Jordan said he hoped the clinics "will help provide a brighter and healthier future for the children and families they serve."
The gift comes from one of the greatest players in NBA history, who grew up in Wilmington and attended UNC-Chapel Hill. Jordan hit the winning shot in the Tar Heels' 1982 national championship victory over Georgetown.
Jordan, 54, is the only former NBA player with majority ownership of a franchise. He purchased control of the Hornets from founding owner Bob Johnson in March 2010, after four seasons as part of the ownership group.
Though his primary residence is in Florida, Jordan considers Charlotte his second home, Portnoy said. Jordan has purchased two homes in the Charlotte area – a condominium in uptown Charlotte and an estate on Lake Norman. In Florida, he owns a mansion in the town of Jupiter. Jordan also owns property in Utah.
On Friday, Jordan made an appearance in Charlotte at the dedication of the renovated Tuckaseegee Park, along with Hornets President Fred Whitfield.
It is not a surprise that public health would be a cause Jordan would choose to support. The Hornets' corporate social responsibility department identified wellness as a key issue in Charlotte, along with education, hunger and support of the military and youth programs.
Novant has been the official health care provider for the Hornets since the inception of the franchise in 2004, when they were known as the Charlotte Bobcats. Novant (and previously Presbyterian) is the naming sponsor for the Hornets' practice gym, inside Spectrum Center. Novant united hospitals operating under the Presbyterian name to the Novant brand in 2013.
"Michael's been a wonderful partner for us at Novant Health," CEO Carl Armato said in an Observer interview. "This is not the first time that he personally has had such a dedication and commitment to the community and to our patients."
Armato said the donation will help accelerate Novant's ability "to provide remarkable care in some of these areas that have been under-served."
Novant said the two clinics will offer not only family physicians and pediatricians, but also behavioral health, physical therapy, social work, oral health and family-planning services.
Such a wide menu of services makes the clinics unlike anything else owned by Novant, said Dr. Michael Hoben, who leads Novant's primary-care clinics in the Charlotte region.
Hoben, citing findings from a Charlotte-Mecklenburg Opportunity Task Force report this year, said lack of access to health care has been a key factor behind Charlotte's economic-mobility challenges. One way the clinics will seek to lower costs for patients, Hoben said, is by helping those who qualify for government programs such as Medicaid to sign up for them.
It is estimated that, over five years, the Jordan clinics will care for nearly 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, according to Novant calculations. The clinics have the potential to decrease emergency room use by 68 percent and decrease hospitalization by 37 percent for the residents of those neighborhoods, according to Novant.
Portnoy, the Jordan spokeswoman, said the gift ranks among the biggest charitable gifts from Jordan, whose recent donations include $5 million last year for the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Forbes estimates Jordan's net worth at approximately $1.4 billion. A major division of Nike is Jordan Brand, built around the popularity of Air Jordan shoes and apparel. Jordan Brand sponsors the Hornets, with a "Jumpman" logo on uniforms this season.
Jordan has become more public of late in both speaking out on social issues and philanthropic works.
In July of 2016, he wrote on The Undefeated website about African-Americans dying at the hands of law enforcement and also the targeting of violence against police officers. Jordan at the time pledged a $1 million contribution each to the NAACP Defense Fund and the Institute for Community-Police Relations.
Jordan has since addressed the topic of inclusion, regarding the since-rescinded North Carolina House Bill 2. He also released a statement to the Observer on the value of free expression after President Donald Trump criticized NFL players who chose not to stand for the national anthem before games.
It's not uncommon for major-league sports franchises to have deals with health care providers. Novant's chief rival, Charlotte-based Carolinas HealthCare System, has been associated with the Carolina Panthers since that team's beginnings in the mid-1990s. Retired NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon's name is on a Carolinas HealthCare System children's hospital in Concord.
The heft of Jordan's name is not lost on Jesse Cureton, Novant's chief consumer officer, who noted that others "would love to have an iconic person like Michael select them."