November 21, 2011
If there's been a surprising villain in the NBA lockout, it's been Michael Jordan, Bobcats owner and, more notably, still the most famous basketball player on the planet. As an occasional leader of the owners' hardline faction, Jordan has stood out as someone who may not be willing to negotiate in good faith, if he's even willing to negotiate at all. Just as he did on the court, he wants to win in a rout.
On the other side, Dwyane Wade(notes) has been something of a surprisingly loud voice on the players side, with his in-meeting confrontation with David Stern having become one of the signature moments of negotiations. Still, that desire for respect from the owners hasn't stopped Wade from reiterating the strength of his business relationship with MJ and his Nike subsidiary Jordan Brand. From a Wade interview with Ira Winderman for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel (via EOB):
Amid the recent height of lockout rancor, Jordan was singled out by several of Wade's union brethren for his uncompromising lockout stance against the players. Wade is among the leading endorsers of Jordan's apparel.
"I really didn't need to get involved in all that," Wade said. "Obviously I wear a different hat than certain other guys that got involved in it. And I stay away from it. I have an obligation and I have a job to do and I'm going to do my job."
Several players vowed to shun Jordan's merchandise, including Paul George(notes), Klay Thompson(notes) and, most notably, Washington Wizards guard Nick Young(notes), who posted on his Twitter account, "I'm not wearing Jordans no more. Can't believe what I just seen and heard from M.J. Elvis Done Left The Building."
"That's on Nick Young," Wade said. "That's his moment. Obviously, that's his own choice and decision and, you know, that's something he's going to have to deal with. I can't let that affect me. I have my own things to run, my own stuff to think about what I'm doing with my own shoes.[...]"
It's somewhat surprising that Wade would be so open to working with a man who wants to take as much from the players as he possibly can, but the two viewpoints expressed here are actually pretty consistent. In the lockout, Wade wants to hold on to as much of his ability to make profits and win championships as he can. In the endorsement game, he wants to be with the company that can help him sell the most shoes and do the most for his brand.
What's weird is that the same man who helps him reach those goals in one area is impeding him in another. Some people would question how Wade could do business with someone who wants to crush him, but this is an "all in the game" situation if there ever was one (NSFW language at that link).
It's important to remember that the players hold the small-c conservative position in the lockout -- they want to maintain the status quo. The players have a legitimate cause in thinking that they shouldn't have to give up considerable amounts of their salaries and the ability to choose their employers freely just because some small-market owners claim to have lost money after buying franchises that were by no means fail-safe investments. But those same players still want to earn lots of money from salaries or endorsement opportunities.
For all he's said about not wearing Jordans, Nick Young hasn't decided to stop taking the close to $2 million he's made every season from his relationship with Nike, even though everyone behind the Swoosh likely wants to see the NBA back in action -- with a decent deal for the union or not -- as soon as possible so they can maximize their profits. When the goal is profit, everyone involved has to take on strange bedfellows.
Put simply, the lockout is a battle between two parties (and various interested corporate bystanders) over money, and the only moral arguments to be had are over which group deserves to take the bulk of the pot. Wade hasn't contradicted himself in decrying Jordan's negotiating position while simultaneously working with Jordan's company.
On the contrary, he's just made the fundamental position of the union more explicit. That doesn't make him a jerk, but it does help explain the extent to which every person involved in these negotiations depends on each other for the place he holds within the league and society at large.
Dwyane Wade isn't much without the Miami Heat and Jordan Brand; the Miami Heat and Jordan Brand look a lot less impressive without Wade. That's also why, when this lockout finally ends, it'll be fairly easy for Wade and his fellow players to return to the fold without much complaining.
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