November 04, 2011
As you have likely heard, Bobcats owner and former NBA warrior-king Michael Jordan now leads a group of 10 to 14 owners who will not except anything worse than a 50-50 split of basketball-related income in collective bargaining negotiations. Given that the union has as yet refused to back off of 52.5 percent, we may be heading for a very long stalemate.
It's a huge reversal of course for a man who as a player balked at any restrictions on player salaries. At SB Nation, Tom Ziller has noted several of MJ's pro-player quotes from the past, including this delightful nugget directed at then-Wizards owner (and future employer) Abe Pollin during the 1998-99 lockout, as quoted in the book "Just Ballin'" by Mike Wise and Frank Isola:
During an early October meeting in Manhattan, Jordan sparred with Wizards owner Abe Pollin in front of Stern, other owners and more than 100 players. After an impassioned Pollin, the lague's senior owner, talked of his struggle to keep his team, Jordan interrupted. "If you can't make it work economically, you should sell the team."
Indeed, a great idea. But, as anyone with a rudimentary education in algebra knows, it's the complete opposite of Jordan's current point of view. He now thinks that buying a team in a questionable market, making bad personnel decisions, and hiring friends for important positions should not affect his bottom line. The players should have to give up salary to accomodate the owners' losses. It's a blatantly hypocritical point of view. Yet it's also very consistent for Jordan as a person.
For all his greatness as a player, MJ has been frustrating people on a personal level for decades. As noted various times in David Halberstam's essential "Playing for Keeps," Jordan regularly belittled Bulls teammates for perceived slights (or even just for not being especially good players) and held grudges for years. In order to get the Jordan that dominated NBA games, the people around him had to tolerate someone who acted like a colossal jerk. In fact, that arrogance was also related to his on-court greatness. It was impossible to get one without the other.
When MJ used his Hall of Fame induction speech as a chance to settle personal grievances instead of paying tribute to those who helped him get to the heights of the sport, it was treated by many observers as a startling revelation. In truth, it was more like a high-profile instance of the sort of actions people had known about for years.
Jordan, for lack of a better term, is a butthead with an overpowering desire to win. When he played basketball, that competitive desire came across as a good quality. Off the court, though, it reads as rampant selfishness. As a player, he wanted more money. As an owner, he wants more money in a way that screws the players. It's hypocritical, yes, but also governed by the same general principle. Jordan, no matter what, will look out for his own interests.
It's a shame that a former player cannot hold some measure of empathy for their current situation. But it's exactly what we should have expected from Jordan.