Since the official word dropped Monday afternoon that the National Basketball Players Association had rejected a take-it-or-leave-it offer from the league to extend the current lockout into the foreseeable future -- likely at the cost of an entire season, the prevailing logic has stated that this is a situation devoid of winners. It's easy to see why. Team employees could lose their jobs. Local businesses that rely on fans piling into and out of 41 home games will lose customers. The players will miss paychecks, and, perhaps even worse, youth. The owners should have to live with soiled names; more than anyone else, they caused this. And the fans. NBA fans have it worst of all.
Of course, where there are losers, there is almost always a winner. Same goes for this lockout. While the rest of the free world suffers in pro basketball limbo, one man exits as the prizewinner. It should come as no surprise that it's the same man who is potentially the greatest champion of this or any era: Charlotte Bobcats majority owner and the leader of the league's hardline crusade, Michael Jordan.
The reason the 2011-2012 NBA season remains hogtied is because the owners refuse to negotiate with the players. While the players' union has backed off a number of issues, the owners keep pushing, refusing to budge on anything at all. That doesn't mean there's been zero negotiating, though. This labor dispute changed a long time ago from "players vs. owners" to "owners vs. owners". Their intent to punish and humiliate Billy Hunter and Derek Fisher is perhaps their lone common thread.
The owners' divide is a classic case of the "have's" against the "have not's". Jordan and his lowly Bobcats qualify as the paltriest of the latter group. Forbes estimated MJ's Bobcats lost $20 million last season. Talent on their roster is non-existent. MJ looked around and realized that he had finally stuck himself in a situation that he could not conquer. So, in classic MJ fashion, he decided that he wasn't going to stand for it.
While the owners fitted their final offer with a still-preposterous 50/50 split of the BRI (it was 57/43 for the players under the previous agreement), Jordan argued the players' share must be even lower, no higher than 47 percent.
Michael Jordan -- champion capitalist -- was now fighting to slash player salaries by as much as possible.
Not surprisingly, Jordan has been deemed a hypocrite and a sell-out by more than one current player. There appears to be a shared feeling of betrayal. Indiana Pacers wing Brandon Rush had this to say on Tuesday:
Jordan, who earned over $30 million annually from the Bulls his last two seasons in Chicago, had completely turned his back on an entire generation of players who grew up idolizing him.
This should shock no one, though. Michael Jordan looks out for one person: himself. Always has, always will. The man's appeitite for winning appears to literally be insatiable. When Michael Jordan, Small Market Owner didn't think he could win, MJ The Player's instincts kicked back in. He would be a ruthless asshole until he got his way, same as it always was.
Jordan's obsession with success bordered on sociopathic as a player. Sports is one of the few places in the world where such qualities turn you into a deity. In the real world, being wired like MJ makes you nothing less than an insufferable, friendless prick. By all accounts, Jordan is just as callous in golf, poker, and business as he was as a player. His controversial Hall of Fame speech forever encapsulated this in a 20-minute YouTube video. Jordan knows the smaller the players' share, the better a chance he'll have to complete on the court and turn a profit off of it. Why are we surprised he's acted this way, again?
Over at The Classical last weekend, Bethlehem Shoals summed up Jordan's power play like this:
He’s never going to excel at running basketball teams, but at very least he can stab at the enemy like in the old days. Irrelevance is far preferable to emasculation. Jordan has found his niche as the only owner capable of toeing the hard line without coming off as a sniveling kook.
If Dan Gilbert and Robert Sarver suffer for their efforts, Jordan is enhanced by them. The ruler is back. The past roars yet again. It’s a genius bit of marketing, a brilliant way to create the illusion of clout. Jordan can only leverage Jordan by accepting that he will never be anything more than that vessel for rage—at least, never again. His playing days, in this sense, were a happy accident.
It wasn't long ago Jordan told Wizards owner Abe Pollin, "If you can't make it work economically, you should sell the team". At the time, that's what was best for Michael Jordan. Now what's best for him is forgetting such a sentiment ever existed.
Ricky O'Donnell is a writer and editor in Chicago and the founder of the Chicago sports blog Tremendous Upside Potential. He is always very much available for hire. Follow him on Twitter or reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.