Charlotte Hornets owner Michael Jordan served as an important intermediary between the rest of the NBA owners and its players as both sides grappled with whether or not to continue the season following the shooting of Jacob Blake by Wisconsin police officers, according to ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan. Players ultimately decided to resume the season before speaking with ownership formally.
Jordan spoke with both NBPA president Chris Paul and Houston Rockets star Russell Westbrook ahead of Thursday’s owners meetings both to discuss the social justice issues at hand and get a sense of what players wanted to achieve by cancelling games and, possibly, the entire postseason, according to MacMullan. Additionally, he told his fellow owners that “right now, listening is better than talking,” in dealing with players that are frustrated with what is happening outside of their bubble. Jordan is the chairman of the NBA Labor Relations Committee, and his experience as a player has allowed him to serve as a bridge between the two sides in this unprecedented period.
Owners were reportedly unanimous in their support of players, though no changes in league policy or further donations have yet been announced. Some players, including LeBron James, reportedly wanted firm commitments from ownership to take more action on the racial equality front. Ownership is not yet known to have made any meaningful new pledges on social justice matters as a result of Wednesday’s work-stoppage.
Jordan was famously apolitical during his playing career. He drew significant criticism for his refusal to endorse Democrat Harvey Gant in a 1990 senatorial election against Jesse Helms, a politician consistently accused of racism, and his accompanying suggestion that “Republicans buy sneakers too.” But his stance has softened somewhat since his retirement. His Jordan Brand announced it will donate $100 million to racial justice causes over the next decade in July.
Players entered the bubble hoping to use their platform to enact real social change following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. Seeing another Black man attacked by police officers so soon afterward has been disheartening for the entire nation, but especially to the players in a predominantly Black league dealing with a number of other frustrations within the bubble. Having a Black man among the largely-white class of owners that can relate to their experiences as both players and human beings is absolutely essential in getting the two sides on the same page. There is still work to be done, but for now, the season is on track to resume, and Jordan deserves some of the credit for making that happen.