Jordan to come out of retirement again? Don't get your hopes up
Bobcats owner Michael Jordan suited up for practice with the team last week
A number of CBA issues would keep him from being a player/owner
Current CBA language would basically force him to sell the team to return
He's already returned twice to the NBA after multiyear hiatuses, but could Charlotte Bobcats owner Michael Jordan, who turns 48 on Thursday, return once again?
Jordan, who last played in 2003, joined the team's practice last week, fueling speculation that he might try another comeback, especially after his Hall of Fame induction speech in September 2009, when he said, "One day you may look up and see me playing a game at 50. Don't laugh. Never say never."
If Jordan returned, he would become the oldest player in NBA history and more than 20 years older than the average player in the league (26.8 years). While a player of Jordan's age would seem susceptible to frequent injuries over the course of an 82-game season, the Bobcats have already played 56 games. And given that they're ninth in the Eastern Conference, adding the greatest basketball player of all time -- even if he's half the player he used to be and only plays in every other game -- would probably boost ticket sales and bolster the Bobcats' chances of making the playoffs.
But would Jordan's playing on a team that he owns violate NBA rules? There are a variety of reasons why a player/owner would prove problematic.
For one, Jordan would hold membership in the two groups that are negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement. While owners and players are not necessarily competitors, since they need each other for the NBA to exist, they do hold differing views about various matters that are subject to collective bargaining. Those matters include limits on player salaries, access to unrestricted free agency and distribution of league revenue. Jordan, as player/owner, would represent both players and owners, each perhaps skeptical of his loyalty and stance on issues -- would he be "labor" or "management"?
In addition, Jordan could have access to privileged information that each side has kept confidential. While Jordan could agree to not share any privileged information that he learns as player or owner, or even to take any role in the collective bargaining discussions, his role as player/owner would undoubtedly place him in a netherworld of collective bargaining.
A second concern would arise when Jordan the owner "negotiates" a contract with Jordan the player, with Jordan the owner paying Jordan the player. A negotiation between one's right and left arm normally doesn't qualify as "arms-length" bargaining. To be sure, Bobcats general manager Rod Higgins would play a key role in the Jordan-Jordan negotiation and Jordan could simplify the situation by agreeing to take the league minimum for veteran players ($1.2 million). Still, the players' association, which has a stake in seeing player salaries go up, may disfavor a player taking less than his market value.
A third concern would center on game-related decisions that might awkwardly amplify Jordan's dual role as owner/player. For instance, what happens if Bobcats coach Paul Silas doesn't play Jordan as much as Jordan believes he should play? Would it be appropriate for Jordan the owner to fire the coach? Or how about if Jordan's teammates don't pass him the ball enough -- would those players soon find themselves on the bench or on other teams?
A fourth concern would relate to precedent: If the NBA allows Jordan to be owner/player, would that set the table for other super rich players, such as LeBron James or Kobe Bryant, to buy equity stakes in their teams? Along those lines, while Jordan is the majority owner of the Bobcats, what would happen if a player who has a minority ownership stake in "his" team is then traded by that team? He would certainly have to divest his stake in the team, but the team that traded him would be in an advantageous bargaining situation because the player couldn't play on his new team (and presumably get paid by that new team) unless he sold off his ownership stake in the team that traded him.
The NBA and players' association have contemplated these concerns and include in the current CBA language that would generally prevent an owner from being a player and vice versa. Under Article XXIX, Section 8, "no NBA player may acquire or hold a direct or indirect interest in the ownership of any NBA team." However, the clause allows a player to own shares in any publicly traded company that directly or indirectly owns an NBA team. As a result, for Jordan to own and play for the Bobcats, he would have to convert his ownership interest to that of owning a publicly traded company that owns the Bobcats. While that type of transaction is possible, it is also complicated and would require, among other steps, registration with the Securities and Exchange Commission, an initial public offering and NBA approval of the Bobcats' new ownership structure.
Jordan could avoid these complexities by selling his equity stake in the Bobcats, but a sale would require league approval and would take months, if not longer, to finalize. NBA teams also don't come up for sale very often. Jordan would have to really want to return to the court before selling the Bobcats, because it's not clear when he would have another shot at buying an NBA team.
Given these hurdles, don't expect to see Michael Jordan playing on an NBA court anytime soon.
Michael McCann is a sports law professor and Sports Law Institute director at Vermont Law School and the distinguished visiting Hall of Fame Professor of Law at Mississippi College School of Law. He also teaches a sports law reading group at Yale Law School.