Dissecting Jordan, Part II

by Dax-Devlon Ross

In part 1 I had some fun at Michael Jordan’s expense. He can afford it. This time around I actually want to discuss his position as a head strong NBA owner and consider some possible rationales  for his stance.

The New York Times quotes  a statement Jordan once made to Abe Polin suggesting the late Wizards owner sell the team if he can’t make a profit. The statement is deployed to underscore Jordan’s hypocrisy now that he’s the owner boo-hooing about profit. A more appropriate quote would have been Jordan’s Hall of Fame remarks about Chicago Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf,

 He said organizations win championships. I said, ‘I didn’t see organizations playing with the flu in Utah. I didn’t see it playing with a bad ankle.’

Granted, I think organizations put together teams, but at the end of the day, the team’s got to go out and play. I think the players win the championship, and the organization has something to do with it, don’t get me wrong. But don’t try to put the organization above the players.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’m not  one of those who consider MJ a sell out or a hypocrite. Calling him names like that is too simple and easy. He’s an opportunist. He’s with whichever team he’s playing on at the moment. He’s always been that way. I’d even argue that’s what makes him special. A sell out shifts with the wind. As a player and now as an owner, “Air” is proving he is the wind.

There’s also a familiar element of that relentless competitor at play in the new Michael Jordan that, I think, contextualizes his behavior. We loved him as a player not only because he was great at what he did in the All-Star game or even in the playoffs but because on cold Tuesday nights in mid February when the  Bulls already had a playoff spot virtually locked up and he could have coasted through a game against Milwaukee or Washington, “Air” delivered. He played every game hard. He wanted to win every time he stepped on the court. Losing got under his skin. Losers pissed him off. That’s his mentality. And that mentality didn’t disappear just because the cartilage in his knees did. I don’t think I’m too far off  in saying the current labor negotiations are another opportunity — an increasingly rare one at that — for the Michael Jordan of old to flex his alpha male, take no prisoners muscles against the youngins. Is MJ’s ability to live the life of luxury he’s grown accustomed to at stake? Hardly. Does that make the fight any less meaningful? Of course not.

In all likelihood MJ looks at many of the players in the NBA and genuinely thinks he can still beat them. Fairly or not, he looks out on the court at guys who would not have had a job in his NBA (because expansion has watered down the league), who can’t perform basic basketball functions, who take nights off, who only play hard in a contract season, who walk into millions of dollars that they haven’t earned, and he thinks, “Why should I split 50-50 with you?” He can make a legitimate argument that his generation built the league into what it is today, yet most of his contemporaries never made the kind of money a slightly above average player makes today. One of those slightly above average guys is Charlotte’s Tyrus Thomas. The owner of modest career averages in the 8 points and 5 rebounds per game ballpark, Thomas will make $35,000,000 over the next four seasons, roughly $10,000,000 more than MJ made his first nine seasons combined. I see his argument. I get it. And even though its not fair to compare himself to other, less gifted players, he’s entitled to do as much. After all, he played most of his career for what would be considered peanuts today.

What will be interesting is how NBA stars currently signed to MJ’s Jordan brand will remember this moment. The brand currently sponsors Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade Chris Paul, Ray Allen, salary cap poster child Joe Johnson and some 14 others of lesser stature. Where exactly the hard-line owner, former player and brand boss intersect is itself an interesting question. How does he separate them all? Do the players on his Jordan roster draw a distinction? How do they all fit together? And will winning as an owner  cost him as a brand boss?