NBA gets used to new kind of power play

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - Kevin B. Black­i­stone sports@wash­post.com

Of the 1,128 dunks that DeAn­dre Jor­dan man­u­fac­tured since be­ing drafted into the NBA in 2008, many of which have been in a spec­tac­u­larly thun­der­ous va­ri­ety known as pos­ter­i­za­tion be­cause they in­clude some poor soul try­ing to pre­vent them, the most mem­o­rable was the run­ning catch-and-punch he de­liv­ered two years ago against Detroit with Bran­don Knight op­pos­ing him in the frame.

At least that was true un­til Thurs­day.

Noth­ing Jor­dan ever did re­sounded around the league like his au­to­graph­ing a fouryear, $87 mil­lion con­tract with the Los An­ge­les Clip­pers as the league’s free agent sign­ing pe­riod con­vened just af­ter mid­night. The rea­son? To hear peo­ple tell it, be­cause he told the Dal­las Mav­er­icks days be­fore that he was go­ing to leave Los An­ge­les and join them but re­neged on that idea to stay with the Clip­pers, the only team for which he has played.

In short, he had buyer’s re­morse. Who among us hasn’t?

Yet he has been called cow­ardly be­cause he didn’t in­form the Mav­er­icks of his change of mind. His mas­culin­ity has been called into ques­tion and worse.

“When a man gives you his word and an or­ga­ni­za­tion his word, es­pe­cially when that or­ga­ni­za­tion put in so much ef­fort and I walked him through this process and was very, very open and will­ing to work with him,” Chan­dler Par­sons, a would-be team­mate in Dal­las, lamented to ESPN.com on Thurs­day, “it’s just very un­eth­i­cal and dis­re­spect­ful.”

I don’t think any less of Jor­dan, a free agent— em­pha­sis on free— who could choose to play for what­ever team he de­sired. He was even free to change his mind if he saw fit be­fore sign­ing a deal, which he did.

In­stead, I think even more of Jor­dan, some­one I hadn’t re­ally con­sid­ered be­yond his high­light reel. Ev­ery other player in the league should think highly of him, too, even a would-be team­mate in Dal­las.

Af­ter all, Jor­dan didn’t make a rash de­ci­sion; he de­lib­er­ated, which we all should do over such a crit­i­cal choice as where to ply our trade. As a re­sult, he reached a wise con­clu­sion and not an emo­tional one, which would have been a re­turn to the state in which he was born, reared and de­vel­oped into a sec­ond-round NBA draft pick.

In­stead, he chose to stay with the team that was a cham­pi­onship con­tender. He chose to re­main with the team that re­mu­ner­ated him with the heftier con­tract.

What he did was take ad­van­tage of the path cut five years ago this week by LeBron James in “The De­ci­sion,” an or­ches­trated orgy of nar­cis­sism that— you re­al­ized once you fin­ished clear­ing your eyes of its nau­se­at­ing op­tics— over­turned the his­tor­i­cal re­la­tion­ship in the NBA be­tween own­er­ship and man­age­ment on one side and la­bor on the other.

What Jor­dan was able to do is another rea­son James is such a tran­scen­dent pro­fes­sional ath­lete. When ev­ery­one waited with bated breath to hear James an­nounce he was leav­ing the Cleve­land Cava­liers for Mi­ami to play with its res­i­dent su­per­star, Dwyane Wade, and Toronto’s Chris Bosh, with whom they had col­luded to hook up in South Beach, it shifted the power of con­trol in the league to the hands of those who should ac­tu­ally have it: the play­ers, the la­bor­ers.

It was, in fact, such a sea change that Mav­er­icks owner Mark Cuban warned at the time that the com­mis­sioner and his fel­low fran­chise chief­tains needed to hud­dle, as James, Wade and Bosh had so fa­mously in that off­sea­son, to check it.

“I’m go­ing to bring it up to the league that we re­ally do have to reeval­u­ate the is­sue of player tam­per­ing,” Cuban told Brian Windhorst, James’s ca­reer-long bi­og­ra­pher, who was re­port­ing for the Cleve­land Plain Dealer at the time be­fore fol­low­ing James to Mi­ami with ESPN. “Who knows what will hap­pen? But I have to sug­gest it to them be­cause there has to be more de­fin­i­tive rules.

“It’s not just the Cavs,” Cuban told Windhorst. “It could be any team. It could be the Heat in a cou­ple years. I’mnot say­ing it’s go­ing to be easy. But there has to be a way to keep these guys away from each other for the last week [be­fore free agency] any­way.”

This time, Cuban couldn’t keep Jor­dan away from his Clip­pers’ team­mates, sev­eral of whom crashed Jor­dan’s Hous­ton home and held a lock­down party un­til the free agent sign­ing pe­riod be­gan and Jor­dan inked his new con­tract.

Time was when cov­eted tal­ents such as the 6-foot-11, 265-pound Jor­dan, who can run and jump like much smaller play­ers, sat around and waited for po­ten­tial em­ploy­ers to di­rect them where to go next. But James changed all of that.

The pro­le­tariat, higher and higher priced as it goes, no longer can be con­trolled with an iron fist.

There was a joke go­ing around the NBA this sea­son as James’s new team strug­gled and he clashed with his neo­phyte coach, David Blatt, that James was the real coach and gen­eral man­ager, too. There was some truth to that ob­ser­va­tion even if James didn’t hold ei­ther ti­tle.

James and other stars in the league gained the lever­age five years ago. Jor­dan, de­spite hardly be­ing in James’s cat­e­gory, ex­er­cised it. It’s that all-Amer­i­can thing cat­e­go­rized un­der in­alien­able rights, and he used it to con­trol his own des­tiny. Good for him. Kevin B. Black­i­stone, ESPN pan­elist and vis­it­ing pro­fes­sor at the Philip Mer­rill Col­lege of Jour­nal­ism at the Univer­sity of Mary­land, writes sports com­men­tary for The Post.

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