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Michael Jordan: The NBA Lockout's Biggest Pickle

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Michael Jordan is reportedly leading a charge from hardline owners seeking an NBA lockout deal offering players no more than 50 percent of revenue. (Players received 57 percent in the last deal, and have offered to move as far down as 52 percent.) This is quite a situation, given that Michael Jordan was once an NBA player.

In fact, as a player, he was represented by one of the fiercest player advocates in memory in David Falk. As such, MJ was at the forefront of several labor battles. He said things. They were quoted. They made the news, for Michael Jordan was an important man.

These are some of those news items from Michael Jordan, NBA Player.

Everyone knows the Abe Pollin exchange from the 1998-99 lockout, correct? In case you don't, Mike Wise and Frank Isola describe it in their book Just Ballin':

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 league'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."

Jordan does not believe the current model allows him to make the Charlotte Bobcats work economically, even given the concessions by the players. Yet his own advice goes untaken.

Even before 1998, Jordan agitated against the greed of owners. As Phil Taylor wrote in Sports Illustrated in 1995, MJ and others pushed decertification because they (and Falk, natch) felt that the union had accepted too restrictive a deal. Decertifying the union would have cost games in the 1995-96 season. (This was the year after Jordan had come back midseason from his extended vacation in Birmingham.)

From Taylor:

But then [Hawks forward Grant] Long received a video via overnight express from the decertification camp, which is led by various agents and stars Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing and Reggie Miller. He put it in his VCR, and there were Jordan, Ewing, Miller and other players trying to convince him that decertifying the union was the only logical alternative. The dissidents argued that union executive director Simon Gourdine and union president Buck Williams had negotiated two bad deals. The first one, which was abandoned in the face of intense opposition, included a team luxury tax that, it was argued, would have put a drag on salaries. In the dissidents' view the current proposal was only slightly better.

Long watched and listened as Jordan, Ewing and Miller told him that the best way to get a fair deal was to eliminate the union. Under antitrust rules, that would allow the players to seek an injunction against the owners' two-month-old lockout. The teams would then be forced to open their doors to the players, and without the leverage of a lockout the league presumably would negotiate a deal more favorable to the players.

Jordan The Player railed against a luxury tax and a rookie scale. Jordan The Owner is pushing a deal that involves a punitive luxury tax and a 7 percent constriction of player salaries across the board.

But perhaps the best waffle in Jordan's stack can be found in a quote published in August 1995 in the Chicago Tribune. MJ and the other decert club members lashed out at David Stern's bad deal.

"All [Stern] has to do is evaluate the deal he has proposed to us from a player's standpoint," Jordan said. "He wouldn't recommend that; he wouldn't accept that deal from a business standpoint so why would he ask the players to do that?"

And on the subject of fighting for the younger players, the future of the league, MJ?

"I can see Clyde Drexler, I can see Charles Barkley, I can see David Robinson and I can see all these stars saying, `Great, it's a good deal,' " he said. "Yeah, it's a good deal for us--for the superstars. But for these young players who are going to move forward and make this league and make the game of basketball as popular as it is today, it's not a good deal for them. That's why we're making this stand."

My, how one's assets dictate one's interests.