Licensing a likeness
Battle over video-game rights delays MJ's return
Updated: Tuesday September 25, 2001 2:41 PM
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Michael Jordan has said he's not coming back for the money, yet it's a financial issue that's holding up his official announcement.
A licensing dispute involving the league and one of Jordan's sponsors kept the sports world waiting at least another day for confirmation that Jordan will end his three-year retirement and play for the Washington Wizards this season.
A statement from Jordan outlining the reasons for his comeback was getting some final polish Monday, but it never made it to the copy machines.
"Michael has not finalized his decision," said Estee Portnoy, vice president of marketing and client services for SFX, Jordan's management agency.
The holdup involved the video-game licensing rights to Jordan's likeness, according to Jeff Brown of EA Sports, a game manufacturer.
All players are covered by the group licensing agreement between the players' union and the league, but Jordan reached his own licensing agreement with the NBA in 1992.
Jordan holds his own licensing rights for several products, but not for trading cards, uniform jerseys and video games. He was apparently trying to amend that 1992 agreement as it relates to video games.
"EA is working with the NBA and Michael Jordan's representatives to resolve the issue," Brown said.
One major stack of paperwork is complete. Because owners can't play, Jordan had to sell his share in Lincoln Holdings, which owns a portion of the Wizards, the NHL's Washington Capitals and the MCI Center. Jordan's stake, about 10 percent, goes to Lincoln Holdings majority owner Ted Leonsis.
"My understanding is that the ownership documents are finished," NBA deputy commissioner Russ Granik said. "It just requires Michael's decision as to whether he's going to play."
The question of "whether" Jordan will return has essentially been replaced by "when," but this latest dispute over licensing could delay the announcement until the last possible moment. Jordan needs to make his intentions known by next Monday's media day, when the team departs for training camp in Wilmington, N.C.
Another logistical hurdle is more clear-cut. Jordan not only had to sell his shares in the team, but he has to relinquish his job as Wizards president of basketball operations. His responsibilities will probably be turned over to general manager Wes Unseld and assistant general manager Rod Higgins.
Unseld and Higgins would be free to consult with Jordan, but NBA tampering rules would prohibit Jordan from talking with officials from other teams.
Many Wizards fans no longer doubt that the five-time league MVP will be in uniform: Season-ticket sales have surpassed the 12,000 mark, up more than 2,000 from the end of last season, and are approaching a franchise record.
"Our phones were busy all day," Wizards spokesman Matt Williams said.
Jordan's comeback will bring life, if not victories, to a moribund team that hasn't won a playoff game in 13 years. The Wizards will steal the spotlight the Capitals seized when they acquired Jaromir Jagr and could even command more local attention than the Redskins -- a rarity during football season in the nation's capital.
Jordan ended his first NBA retirement in March 1995 with a fax simply stating, "I'm back!" He had quit the game in October 1993 after leading the Chicago Bulls to three titles and then failed in an attempt to play major league baseball.
He led the Bulls to three more titles and retired again in January 1999, shortly before the start of the lockout-shortened season. He said he was "99.9 percent" certain he would not return, a figure he repeated in April even as he began working out at gyms.
It was also in April that Jordan declared: "I'm not coming back for money." Even though his salary will likely be $1 million -- paltry compared with the $33 million or so he made in his last season with the Chicago Bulls -- Jordan could make another fortune in new endorsements.
Jordan initially planned to announce his return last week, but the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks prompted him to shelve plans for a news conference.
"We're prepared for Michael's announcement," Williams said, "whenever that may be."