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Citizen Jordan

By Benjy Lipsman in News on Jan 21, 2005 10:50PM

In a recent Slate article, Charles P. Pierce took exception with Michael Jordan, claiming that a "soulless retirement caps his soulless career" and likening Jordan to the homogenized and corporate Las Vegas -- where he recently joined a group investing in a new Casino development.

Pierce's criticism of Jordan stems from his not having "left a mark" on the game of basketball, saying that instead he was the "Great Culmination" -- simply at the right place at the right time to benefit from trends in sports and consumerism. He gives Jordan back-handed compliments followed by unsubstantiated criticism:

Michael Jordan was a great player. He also was a great salesman. And that was all he ever was, and that seems to be all that he ever will be.

He then knocks Jordan for not having been as revolutionary as Elvis or Jackie Robinson. It's not exactly like Jordan was presented with a specific opportunity to forever change society or sport like Robinson did. There needs to be that majority force opposing something others want to challenge. But what could have Jordan fought? The sports was integrated, people didn't view the sport as evil or immoral, etc.

In fact, Jordan was revolutionary in regards to the way that he has been able to leverage his image into business equity. He forever changed relationships between athletes and the businesses that benefit from their talent. He didn't simply take a check from Nike, he gained an equity stake in the company and its Jordan brand. He gained a great deal of control over his bottom line in regards to how lucrative the Nike deal was worth. He then made a similar jump by taking an ownership stake in the Washington Wizards. While his final comeback may have tarnished his on-court legend a bit, he clearly took the financial health of the Wizards (and thus his stake) to new levels.

In recent years, he has been seeking to buy a majority stake in an NBA team. No longer content to be a minority partner in these endevours, he wants to be the top dog. And in doing so, he will again forever change the face of sports. The athletes have always been the hired help--that's why they have unions like teachers or factory workers. Even those who move into the front office after their playing days are over are still just employees. But Jordan has the desire and will to become one of the owners. And someday soon he'll accomplish that goal. Then what'll Pierce say?