NBA: Jordan Finally Combining Influence As Player With Wealth As Owner

By Drew Stevens (@lookwhatdrewdid)

It’s as simple as this, Aaron Rodgers.

If you no longer want any part of an organization whose general manager has begun to dig your grave even as you continue to withstand the rigors of professional quarterbacking with flying colors, then you should most certainly look for a change of scenery. You see how well things are working out for Tom Brady after he ended his longterm relationship with New England, right?

He found greener — and far warmer — pastures in Tampa Bay. Now while it may be tempting to move across country where friendlier climates and your childhood favorite 49ers play, remember, that team blew its chance with you years ago. Besides, the coldest dish of revenge you could serve that bay green and cheese gold-colored front office would be aligning yourself with its sworn enemy, the Chicago Bears.

That’s how you retaliate against Brian Gutekunst, who had the audacity to trade up to select Jordan Love in last year’s NFL Draft, and head coach Matt LaFleur, who was a little too eager to co-sign that move and chose Mason Crosby’s leg, not your invaluable arm, when it mattered most. After all, when you have a chance to really stick it to your ex you don’t date a stranger. You round the bases with the best friend.

Think about it.

Not only would you move from the hallowed ground at Lambeau Field to that at Soldier Field, but you’d also go from being one of the city’s most hated visitors to one of its most beloved residents a la Dennis Rodman.

Plus, you love it here. Or at least that’s what I took from how you talked about the chills you feel before game time listening to both Jim Cornelison belt out the national anthem and Bears fans equally resounding reaction. “Those tingles over the years have made that place a really special environment,” you said in December. “And I do have a lot of respect for the organization, the fan base, their team.”

And we for you, albeit begrudgingly.

But you can’t really blame us for that though, can you? I mean, you did author a 35-16 beat down with your 240 yards and four touchdowns just a few days after speaking so highly of practically all things Chicago. Not to mention that was the 10th victory of your career in the Windy City in the 13 times you’ve played here. Hard feelings are even harder to shake when they’re mixed with the envy of watching your arch-rival swap one hall-of-fame signal caller for another while our carousel of mediocrity at that position continues to turn nonstop.

You can change that. You can rip that ride from its lousy rails. It’ll take some convincing, maybe even a little acting on your part. You’re pretty believable in those State Farm commercials. How good are you at faking or threatening retirement?

As far as compensation goes, tell Gutekunst we can offer the 20th overall pick in this year’s draft and future first-round picks in each of the next two as well. There figures to be a nice crop of blue chip offensive lineman this summer. Something for him to keep in mind given his franchise left tackle, David Bakhtiari, will be playing the rest of his career on a surgically-repaired knee. Also, considering how Kevin King had two touchdowns scored on him and drew a crippling defensive pass interference penalty that essentially robbed you of the chance to play in your second Super Bowl, it seems an upgrade at cornerback is in order. We’ve got a promising one in Jaylon Johnson he might be interested in, too.

If that package doesn’t move him, perhaps we can throw in the tag-and-trade of Allen Robinson. We’d much rather have the two of you here, but if we must sacrifice our most lethal offensive threat then so be it. You’re that special to us. Even today, just a handful of months from beginning your 17th year in the NFL.

Look. Breaking up is hard. There’s no two ways about it. But once you finish sopping up the best comfort food our city has to offer, you’ll adjust. You’ll see that while the sum of the Bears’ current weapons don’t yet compare to that of Davante Adams, Aaron Jones and Robert Tonyan, you’ve had far less to work with in your career than David Montgomery, Cole Kmet and Darnell Mooney.

None of this is to say you’d find the type of immediate success that Brady’s found with the Buccaneers. What it does mean is your arrival would, quite frankly, send an already rabid fanbase over the moon; push our mockery of a front office into credible standing; and our overworked defense into more favorable situations.

If nothing else, how satisfying would it be to flip the league’s oldest rivalry on its head, to force Gutekunst and LaFleur to forever rue the day they chose Love?

In Green Bay you had to escape the shadow of Brett Farve — who, against conventional wisdom, was cast out to the Jets of all teams after reaching near-deity status as a Cheeshead, his association with the Packers being the only one that can rival yours post-Bart Starr. Here, in Chicago, you’d cast a shadow as far as our franchise’s list of starting quarterbacks is long before you even threw your first pass in dark navy and orange.

The offseason is long. Our patience for a player your caliber has been woefully longer.

Just give it some thought.

Ok?

What if I told you that for every fashionably lax pair of shorts, every tongue poked out in forewarning of a devastating offensive maneuver or for every sleekly designed athletic product gone global, Michael Jordan’s most lasting impression on the National Basketball Association and its players has only recently begun to take shape.

When the 2019-2020 season was shoved to the edge of cancellation for the second time in five months — this time as a result of the league-wide boycott set in motion by the Milwaukee Bucks in response to the police shooting of another unarmed Black man, and not the Coronavirus pandemic — to the extent that the two prohibitively favored teams from Tinseltown were prepared to make a dramatic exit from the Walt Disney World Resort on the night of the historic demonstration, it was Jordan who took the initiative to help rescue the teeter-tottering campaign from an otherwise devastating outcome.

As only the second ever Black majority owner in the NBA — having succeeded the first, Robert Johnson, nearly a decade ago in taking over the then-Charlotte Bobcats — Jordan acted as the conduit through which National Basketball Players Association president, Oklahoma City Thunder point guard and Jordan Brand sponsoree Chris Paul relayed his contemporaries concerns about, and ambitions for, a return to action. Players’ fury with the unconscionable police shooting of another unarmed Black man, Jacob Blake, ignited feelings of righteous anger that most of the league took into the bubble play but they had to be paired with feelings of helplessness to influence change or soothe the mounting tension that enveloped their otherwise tranquil surroundings.

With a list of accolades as long as one of Giannis Antetokounmpo’s triple jump-like strides toward the rim, plus his ownership of an iconic clothing brand endorsed by the likes of phenoms Zion Williamson of the New Orleans Pelicans and Luka Doncic of the Dallas Mavericks, and a reputation as the greatest to ever play the sport in every circle free from ignorantly blissful LeBron James fans (sorry, Rihanna), Jordan is a tailor-made go-between, really the only person who can completely relate to both elements of power that the NBA’s success is based on.

Of course, Jordan wasn’t single-handedly responsible for the players’ retreat from the season-ending ledge but he did something valuable and that can’t be overstated in encouraging his fellow franchise proprietors to lend their ears to the players before offering solutions that from their older, mostly white alignment could be seen as out of touch or overbearing.

Jordan’s recent activity — in May following the murder of George Floyd Jordan said “we have had enough” in part of a statement released by the Hornets, and in July he and his Nike subsidiary pledged to disperse $100 million over the next 10 years to organizations nationwide that are “dedicated to ensuring racial equality, social justice and greater access to education” — is a reconciliation of sorts with his voluntary exclusion from socio-political affairs in the past.

Criticism regarding Jordan’s supposed distance from matters of social importance has clouded his legacy ever since he infamously joked that “Republicans buy sneakers, too” in response to his refusal to endorse Black Democrat Harvey Gantt in the 1990 U.S. senate race in his home state of North Carolina.

In his memoir Long Shot: The Triumphs and Struggles of an NBA Freedom Fighter, Jordan’s former Chicago Bulls teammate and renowned social activist Craig Hodges said Jordan called him crazy for suggesting they and the Los Angeles Lakers boycott Game 1 of the 1991 Finals following the brutal beating of Rodney King by Los Angeles Police Department officers earlier that year.

“I never thought of myself as an activist. I thought of myself as a basketball player,” Jordan explained in the 10-part ESPN documentary The Last Dance that premiered in April and chronicled his career up and through his final season with the Bulls. “I wasn’t a politician. I was playing my sport. I was focused on my craft.”

That kind of tunnel vision helped fuel one of the more decorated careers in all of sports but it also stoked criticism, especially from a couple of legendary athletes, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Jim Brown, who were also supreme athletes while also being willing battlers of the toxic elements of the social climate of their hey-day.

“He took commerce over conscience,” Abdul-Jabbar said of Jordan to National Public Radio in 2015.

Brown, who organized the Cleveland Summit, a meeting of top Black athletes — including Abdul-Jabbar (then Lew Alcindor) — in support of the late Muhammad Ali’s refusal to fight in Vietnam more than a half-century ago told Sports Illustrated, “Money has changed today’s black athletes. Those who have the ability as African men to bring a change in a community that so desperately needs it are concentrating only on their own careers, some charities and how much money they can make.”

At a time when everyone is zeroed in on the racial inequities of this country, leading to a plummet in the price to be paid for social activism, Jordan has often bought low into the cycle of financial ramification and public ridicule.

Nevertheless, Jordan’s efforts led to the owner’s unanimous support of the players, renewal of the season and creation of several initiatives aimed toward voting access, social injustice and racial inequality, and police reform.

That athletes have taken up the mantle of representing their communities to government officials is both an inspiration for fans and an indictment of the complacency that’s befallen our politicians. Neither Jordan nor the NBA nor its players have the capacity to change laws and they shouldn’t be tasked to try — that’s supposed to be the job of our elected legislators.

What Jordan, the NBA and its players have tapped into, however, is the enormity of the platform at their separate disposal and the grand possibilities of their cohesion when put towards efforts of direct action.

With the number of Black head coaches in the league having dwindled to five after the firings of Nate McMillan and Alvin Gentry in August, perhaps Jordan, who serves as the NBA Labor Relations Committee chairman, can also help reconstruct the sidelines to more closely resemble the competitors within the lines of play.

During his potshot laden hall-of-fame induction speech in 2009, Jordan hinted at a comeback.

The context then was Jordan taking one more shot at athletic glory. Who knew his actual comeback would be as the NBA’s highest-profile torch-bearer for justice?

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