As the NBA continues to navigate its next steps after the extraordinary decision of the Milwaukee Bucks not to play their playoff game against the Orlando Magic on Wednesday over social justice issues, prompting the cancellation of games throughout multiple professional sports, a recognizable figure has emerged as a go-between NBA players and owners: Michael Jordan.
Jordan, owner of the Charlotte Hornets — and the only Black majority owner in the league — reached out to National Basketball Players Association president Chris Paul, league sources told ESPN, in advance of the owners meeting to get a better understanding of what the players hoped to achieve going forward and to offer assistance as they make their case to the NBA board of governors. Jordan also spoke with Houston Rockets star Russell Westbrook about issues of social justice that initially left some stars advocating for the cancellation of the season.
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski has since reported that the players voted to resume play.
The owners held a virtual meeting Thursday morning, and two participants confirmed that Jordan — who serves as the NBA Labor Relations Committee chairman — was a voice of reason, urging the other owners to allow the players to express their frustrations and concerns before offering any of their own solutions.
“Right now, listening is better than talking,” Jordan told the group, according to sources.
“Michael is the perfect person to be in this role,” said a league official who has been privy to discussions on what should happen next. “He’s been a high-profile player who has won championships. He’s also the owner of a small-market team. He has great credibility both with the players and the owners.”
League sources said the owners were unanimous in their support of the players and spent much of their meeting discussing ways in which they could amplify the players’ voices.
Many owners, including Jordan, sources said, favored continuing the season, believing that the games were still the best and most visible platform for social change. The owners will meet again later Thursday to discuss specific ways in which they can help the players meet their goals while continuing to compete for an NBA title, as well as to discuss the scheduling of the resumption of play in the bubble.
On Wednesday, the Bucks decided not to take the floor against the Magic in protest of the shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man who was shot seven times by police Sunday in Kenosha, Wisconsin. That game, along with Oklahoma City Thunder-Rockets and Portland Trail Blazers–Los Angeles Lakers, was later postponed.
Blake’s shooting reignited frustrations from the players over incidents they feel are systemic and repeated examples of racial injustice. A number of NBA players contemplated “opting out” of resuming the season to instead focus on protests and heightened awareness of their cause.
The NBA painted “Black Lives Matter” on the courts being used inside the bubble at the Walt Disney World Resort and allowed players to include messages for social justice on their jerseys, but the wounds remain raw. When asked about the Blake shooting and what players could do, Bucks veteran George Hill replied earlier this week, “We can’t do anything. First of all, we shouldn’t have even came to this damn place, to be honest.” A visibly emotional Doc Rivers said Tuesday night, “It’s amazing to me why we keep loving this country and this country does not love us back.”
Jordan has expressed his admiration to current NBA players for taking such a strong stand on racial issues, team sources said.
Nike announced in July that it will donate $1 million each to the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the NAACP Empowerment Programs and Black Girls Code. Jordan and Jordan Brand announced their first donations from their 10-year, $100 million pledge on July 29 in support of efforts to combat Black voter suppression. Donations of $1 million went to the Formerly Incarcerated Convicted People and Families Movement and the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and $500,000 to Black Voters Matter.