I owe my professional career to Michael Jordan. As does everyone even remotely involved in basketball. Whether you are a player, a fan, an executive, an agent or a hot dog vendor, your interest in 21st century basketball is all due to MJ. Yes, many legends came before him. But MJ took the game to a completely new level. His performance, both on and off the court, took everything that his predecessors did to a completely different level. He won rings, scoring titles and MVP trophies. He redefined what it meant to be an athlete spokesperson. Even today, athletes compare their marketing careers to MJ’s, and they pale in comparison. MJ invigorated modern basketball and invented modern athlete endorsements. So we really do owe it all to him.
Which is why I’m so intrigued by MJ 2011. It isn’t always easy to transition away from the big stage, but Michael had it pretty good. Jordan Brand is iconic, and arguably the best athlete/sponsor partnership in sports history. But enjoying the success of the Jordan Brand and playing golf probably gets a bit boring after a while, so MJ stays active in the business of basketball.
I scratch my head each time I see a Hanes commercial. I don’t see the brand fit, at least not from his perspective. I can’t help but feel that pitching underwear is beneath His Airness. Now, amidst the brutally ugly NBA lockout, MJ has taken a stand. But it isn’t the stand that many people expected. As one of the highest paid professional athletes in NBA history, as a guy who was paid $30 million PER YEAR the last two season of his career, you would imagine that he would understand where the players were coming from. During his playing days, there’s no way MJ would have stood for a reduction to 50% of basketball related income for the players. Yet now, as an owner, MJ has positioned himself as an NBA hardliner. Funny how true the old saying is: “where you stand depends on where you sit”. As a player, MJ earned as much as he could, and arguably much less than he was really worth. As an owner, MJ wants to limit player salaries as much as possible.
Jordan is completely entitled to take this position. He is an owner, and he should make decisions that are in the best interest of his team. However the fallout, which does not appear on a balance sheet, is how players of the present and future generation will feel about him. They will likely always respect his game, but they are also likely to feel betrayed by him. Today Stephon Marbury, not exactly one to manage his own image all that well, called MJ a “sell out”. Rough words about the guy who once walked on water in the eyes of just about every hoop junkie on the planet.
It will be interesting to see how this plays out. As with most issues impacted by the lockout, the fallout is likely to be worse than many participants anticipate. We’ll see. What’s your take?