Michael Jordan, once one of the NBA player's biggest hardliners in labor negotiations, is now the main impediment to resolving the lockout as an owner. Over at SBNation, I have a look at the Orwellian turn his life has taken:
When he bought the Charlotte Bobcats in 2010, he wasn't just becoming the second black man to ever own a major professional sports franchise in the United States. He was also the first former NBA player to be a majority owner of an NBA franchise: "Here's the difference between rich and wealthy," Chris Rock once said in a stand-up routine. "Shaq is rich; the white man who signs his check is wealthy."
Jordan was born before the passage of the Civil Rights Act and grew up in a small North Carolina city that was a major port for the Confederate Navy. His parents worked at an electric plant and a bank; their son is one of the key decision-makers in boardroom negotiations worth billions of dollars.
He is the American Dream: a man who used hard work and ingenuity to climb the economic ladder all the way to the top, a worker who earned enough capitol to become an owner. But in the process, he's aligned himself with people he once loathed against people just like him who are fighting to hang on to the very successes he once fought so hard for. That's the part of the American Dream we prefer not to think about.
For those of you not following the NBA lockout, there are two main issues of contention:
1. The distribution of income: Players were guaranteed 57% of basketball-related income in the previous CBA. If the new deal is a 50/50 split, the owners will receive an extra $3.3 billion dollars over the next decade. Add that to the huge new TV contract the NBA will get in 2016, and the owners have more than made up the largely fictitious losses they've been claiming.
2. The distribution of talent: If there's not a season, this will be why. The owners have been calling for a much harsher luxury tax in an effort to increase the amount of parity in the NBA. However, the players are worried that a hard salary cap in all but name would eliminate guaranteed contracts for the "middle class" of role-playing veterans, who are the union's main constituents. This is their red-line.
** The NBPA executive committee: Derek Fisher, Chris Paul, Maurice Evans, Matt Bonner, Keyon Dooling, James Jones, Roger Mason, Theo Ratliff and Etan Thomas. A casual fan hasn't heard of half those names, which is exactly the point. **
While small-market owners have been crying about competitive balance, ignoring the success of Oklahoma City and San Antonio, this is really about the debt servicing many of these over-leveraged owners have. They brought NBA franchises at the height of the housing bubble with money they didn't really have and now they want someone else to cover their losses. The players have already agreed to an across-the-board 9% pay cut despite the fact that the industry has grown by 4% through one of the worst recessions in American history.
If small-market owners need more money, they're going to have to take it through revenue sharing with the league's bigger markets. But of course, for the owners, it's easier to take money from the players than it is to take it from each other.
Right now, both sides are playing a game of chicken, but there's a deal to be made before the hard-liners on either side (Jordan's group of owners, the players who want to decertify the union) do something drastic.
David Stern wants to save the season. He's a 69-year old man whose looking out for his legacy. He hasn't wanted to split the ownership, but right now he needs to find 16 votes to get this done. If not, he'll go down in history as nothing more than an empty suit.