MJ and the Transition Game

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?

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About Bill Sanders

Chief Marketing Officer at BDA Sports Management. Oversees marketing of NBA greats Steve Nash, Yao Ming, Greg Oden, Baron Davis, Brandon Jen
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3 Responses to MJ and the Transition Game

  1. Ross Grandolph says:

    MJ has always been one of the fiercest competitors on the planet and not the friendliest guy in the world. It’s clear that MJ and the other owners are bullying the players into getting a deal the owners want. Unfortunately for the players, negotiating is all about who has leverage and the owners are the ones who have the leverage. Billy Hunter and Derek Fisher are trying to be strong during these tough negotiations, but how long can players go without being paid? I just don’t see the majority of players being ok with missing an entire season, while it looks like the majority of owners are perfectly fine with missing all of the 2011-2012 season. The last NBA lockout lasted 204 days and I don’t see this one lasting longer because the players simply cannot last as long at the as the owners at the negotiating table. The players will hate MJ for a long time, but him and the rest of the owners could care less about what the players feel. It’s not the best way to run a business where the employees hate their employer, but it’s the way the NBA will be doing business for the next couple of years.

  2. I guess this only shows that MJ is even more a professional businessman than we thought. He has is commercial interests and I guess he only focuses on those

  3. dj says:

    Mj is a great competetor and he gets whats he wants. I know jordan would only make decision bases on if his team could win more games because thats all he is about is winning so he would put his team in the best interest to suceed.

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