NBA gets used to new kind of power play
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.