The student news site of University of Wisconsin-Platteville.


The student news site of University of Wisconsin-Platteville.


The student news site of University of Wisconsin-Platteville.


Did Michael Jordan hurt the NBA?

Let me preface this column by saying that I do think Michael Jordan was the best player in NBA history, but I think this idea should be considered.

He is literally the most famous athlete ever. His iconic brand, his countless awards, his basketball skills, his business acumen – everything adds to the legend that is Michael Jordan.

In sports, a player’s statistics and championships define him or her. For Jordan: six-time NBA Finals champion and six-time NBA Finals Most Valuable Player awards, five regular-season Most Valuable Player awards, highest points per game average in history (30.1), third-most points ever (32,292) – a career resume that trumps all others.

However, the point of this column is not to reiterate the greatness that is Mr. 23; it is to ask this: Did Michael Jordan hurt the game of basketball?

The biggest problem with greatness stems from those who surround the great individuals; they want to find the next great.

When Jordan retired (the second time) after the 1997-1998 season, the NBA was left in the lurch. They rode on the marketing and popularity high Jordan had given them for the past 12 years, but now the golden goose had left.

Throughout Jordan’s career, the NBA changed rules that favored the offensive player. These were not specifically written to benefit Jordan, but the NBA brass knew that would be the end result. The most notable rule change during Jordan’s career came in 1994 when hand-checking was eliminated.

After Jordan retired from the Bulls, the NBA changed additional rules to open up more opportunities for points. In 1999, all contact by a defender with his hands and forearms was eliminated, which drastically decreased the physicality on the defensive end of the court. In 2001, the league installed the three-second rule on defense, which increased dunks and layups.

These rule changes altered NBA basketball. When Jordan entered the league, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson dominated the landscape with free-flowing, team-centered offenses. Johnson’s “Showtime” Lakers once had a record seven players average double-digit points in a season.

I’m not saying Jordan wasn’t a team player, but his individual skills far outshined his ability to distribute and involve his teammates, and due to the NBA’s rule changes, Jordan was able to catch the ball, isolate, and get to the basket much easier.

We see the lasting effects of these rule changes in the current NBA game. Laker players are constantly (and correctly) accused of “Kobe-watching;” giving Bryant the ball and getting out of the way. In Bird’s and Johnson’s NBA, that couldn’t work.

Jordan’s retirement and the NBA rule changes also gave rise to a new culture in professional basketball, in which one-on-one matchups and statistics over winning dominated the minds of some marquee players.

In what is being termed now as the “Hip-Hop Era,” or more the more damning “Thug Era,” the NBA saw the exploits of Allen Iverson and Rasheed Wallace and the “Jailblazers” dominate headlines and culminate in 2005 with the infamous “Malice at the Palace.”

Away from the hardwood, Jordan’s impact is felt in a more disturbing way.

Jordan revolutionized the art of athlete sponsorship. Through his play and enormous popularity, he took Nike from a small, running-focused company to the omnipresent sports appeal conglomerate it is today. Without Jordan, we wouldn’t have Nike NFL game jerseys.

The pursuit of the next Michael Jordan has placed athletic clothing company scouts in high-school and middle-school gyms looking for a player that they can eventually sign to a deal to wear their brand, hoping to find that diamond in the rough that will give their company’s bottom line a boost.

Case in point: the bidding war for LeBron James. Coming out of St. Vincent-St. Mary’s High School in Akron, Ohio, both Adidas and Nike negotiated for the right to sign James. According to many reports, Adidas had a verbal agreement with James but then Nike bumped up their offer to a massive $90 million and James signed, instantly starting his comparisons to Jordan by signing with the same brand.

Is a 17- and 18-year-old young man fielding offers in excess of third-world GDPs to wear shoes and sweatpants what we want as a culture?

This phenomenon is not Jordan’s fault, or James’ fault for that matter. When you were 18, could you turn down $90 million? But the fact is, because of the way that Jordan took Nike to the mountain top, clothing and shoe companies will do whatever they must to find their version of Jordan.

Jordan spoke on this topic in an appearance on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” in 2005. Winfrey, following a statement by Jordan who said in essence that players now are paid off of potential, not performance, asked Jordan, “Don’t you think that’s partly because of you?”

Jordan’s answer:

“Partly, interpreted totally wrong…The reason is, when you look back on our era- you know, the Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Charles Barkley – we earned what we got. I don’t mean to demean the young kids because I think that’s something they have to learn, and hopefully they will learn that, is that when corporate America came to us, we had a game that could validate their admiration and sponsorships. Now, they get that before they play one game.”

Jordan continued to say that this system sets a bad work ethic.

“When you get something so easily, you’re not going to work as hard,” he said.

In the end, Jordan will be remembered as two interwoven people. First and foremost, a ferocious competitor with the skills and work ethic that made him the greatest player to step onto an NBA court. Second, an icon of the business world that continues to show how star power can drive sales more than anything.

But did Jordan hurt the game he loved? I think yes.

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Did Michael Jordan hurt the NBA?