Now starring in NBA's labor talks with union: Michael Jordan

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Adrian Wojnarowski
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Across several weeks of the NBA’s clandestine collective bargaining discussions with the Players Association, there has emerged a strong voice championing the small markets on the owners’ powerful labor-relations committee: Charlotte’s Michael Jordan.

In multiple meetings with union officials and players in New York, Jordan is a serious voice in these ongoing discussions, league sources told The Vertical. Jordan’s appointment onto that powerful ownership committee has been secret until now, but his sudden standing strengthens what’s been a sometimes jagged journey into the ownership community.

Michael Jordan is finding serious success as Charlotte's owner. (NBAE/Getty Images)
Michael Jordan is finding serious success as Charlotte's owner. (NBAE/Getty Images)

Jordan’s emergence on the labor-relations committee – as well as the NBA’s competition committee – has strengthened his legitimacy as a league owner. Of course, consensus on a labor deal is a long way away, but those on the sides of the league and union all agree on this: Michael Jordan is a formidable factor in this process.

After six years as a majority owner, Jordan has never been so relevant on that job. Beyond labor talks, the countdown to Charlotte hosting the 2017 NBA All-Star Game has started. Most of all: The Hornets are winning. The hiring of coach Steve Clifford has changed everything for the franchise, delivering the groundwork for a sustainable program and culture. Charlotte is 39-30, holding onto the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs – only 1½ games out of third place.

As a business model, Charlotte has grown, too. Privately, there are still agents and players who believe that Charlotte needlessly cuts expenses in ways that are below NBA norms, although most admit that the organization has gotten better in that regard. Charlotte has invested in purchasing its own NBA Development League affiliate in Greensboro, N.C., another way that Jordan has shown a willingness to spend money on the long-term growth of his franchise.

For now, the details of Jordan’s participation in the labor talks illustrate a broader impact on the league. The NBA and its union has until Dec. 15 to give official notification that they plan to opt out of the current 10-year collective bargaining agreement in 2017 and clear the way for a possible work stoppage. The NBA and Players Association have broken down into several groups and committees, sources said, meeting to discuss multiple areas of the CBA.

Details on everything have been purposely scant, given the league and its commitment to trying to keep most details of the talks private.

To think that NBA commissioner Adam Silver didn’t want Jordan’s cachet at the negotiating table with a union executive committee that includes Chris Paul, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony is naïve, of course. Perhaps there’s a tactical edge to having the greatest player in history sitting across from the players. Jordan changes the tone in the room, but make no mistake, owners will tell you: Jordan earned his way onto the committee.

“[Jordan] did it the old fashioned way,” one high-ranking official with strong ownership ties told The Vertical. “He observed. He listened. He wanted to understand the process. He wanted to serve. The players don’t see him as a player – they see him as an owner."

The irony isn’t lost on everyone. Eighteen years ago, Jordan sat on the players’ side and famously barked to Washington Wizards owner Abe Pollin, “If you can’t make a profit, you should sell your team.” Now, Jordan comes to the union as the franchise owner to whom revenue sharing delivered the most money in 2015, league sources said. All those years after becoming a major player on the union’s side in the 1998 lockout, Jordan’s voice on the labor-relations committee has largely been about making the league’s case for the revenue split between owners and players that funds cash payouts to small-market teams with the belief that it will promote competitive balance.

This fight never changes – from Jordan in ’98 to James in ’16. The National Basketball Players Association still insists to ownership and the league: Run your franchises better, make good management decisions and stop making excuses to cut into our fair share.

After years as a strong minority partner and now majority owner of the Charlotte Hornets, Michael Jordan does return to the bargaining table with increased credibility running a franchise. Jordan has driven significant increases in season tickets, sellouts, sponsorships and retail with the franchise’s basketball improvements over the past few years. He brought back the Hornets name to Charlotte, and maybe most of all, brought back Hornets basketball.

Slowly, surely, the greatest player in the history of the game is finding his footing in ownership, pushing to impose his will in these collective-bargaining talks. The All-Star Game is coming to Charlotte, the Hornets are only a game and a half out of the third seed in the East on Monday, and, yes, everything about Michael Jordan’s Charlotte Hornets and NBA life is relevant again.

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