Saturday, September 21, 2013

Changing Mike's Air-rative

Michael Jordan has been a terrible NBA executive. There's no need to mince words, that's not the least bit controversial. He's made nothing but bad decisions, surrounded himself with yes-men for years and season after season watched his teams struggling harder than his jean game.

Air Struggles
Come on, son.
So I've got an idea for him. It won't change any of his past as an owner or change the perception that he's not very good in the front office. It's not about really about basketball at all. If this was just about basketball, or about basketball at all, it would be a no-brainer bad idea. But sometimes the game can take a backseat for the greater good, or at least a greater good.

Michael Jordan and his Charlotte Bobcats should sign Jason Collins.

Jason Collins SI Cover

In case you missed it, Collins came out of the closet this spring, making him the first openly gay active pro athlete in one of the USA's major team sports. But since his coming out, Collins contract expired and he's been a free agent, drawing little interest around the league. There was a brief flirtation with the Detroit Pistons, but it petered out and they instead signed Josh Harrellson, 10 years his junior. So Collins is still very much available.

So why should Jordan do it? THE primary reason is a simple one: signing Collins would completely change the conversation of Jordan's legacy as an owner.

Jordan grin
Say whaaaat?
It doesn't erase the Kwame Brown (or Adam Morrison) debacle, nor does it negate the 7-59 season. But it does add, arguably, a new first line to his bio as an NBA executive. Breaking down the rainbow barrier, signing the first openly gay player would put Jordan in the history books. Not on a level of a Branch Rickey, perhaps, but he'd certainly be moved in that direction, and away from being solely known for losing and lumped in with the Donald Sterling's of the world.

Jason Collins is no Jackie Robinson, several other former pro athletes have come out after they retired and said they were gay while they played but kept it under wraps, whereas there was no way for a black player before Robinson to hide in plain sight in Major League Baseball, but Jordan could help Collins blaze a trail of own, and maybe open the door for other individuals to come forward as well.

I said this wasn't about basketball, but we are dealing with the NBA so let's go ahead and work out the basketball ramifications. Collins certainly isn't going to be much of a difference maker on the court, he's never been that level of player in the NBA and he's been an end of the bench guy for a couple seasons now. But he could add some value. The Bobcats front court currently consists of recent free agent additions Al Jefferson and Anthony Tolliver, incoming rookie Cody Zeller, the disappointing 2011 lottery pick Bismack Biyombo, the mostly ineffective Josh McRoberts and journeyman center Brendan Haywood. Having a "pro's pro" like Collins in the locker room can help the coaches bring the group together, and since Collins is known as a bruiser, going up against him day after day in practice might impart some much needed toughness to Al Jefferson, not currently known for his defense or leadership. Granted, the role Collins normally plays on a team is currently being filled by Haywood, so he doesn't really fit. He would be the 7th big, and that's at least one too many on a team that really needs to add wing scoring, especially if Michael Kidd-Gilchrist continues to struggle with his shooting.

Jason Collins doin' work
Collins battling his future teammates.
But as I said, this isn't a basketball decision. Rich Cho and the personnel team would have to figure it out. Waive or trade Biyombo (he can't catch the ball), try to move Haywood, whatever. Get it done. Charlotte's not going to win this year, and being a bad NBA team in a state with the legendary Duke and North Carolina college basketball programs means you've got to do something to be relevant. Going 7-59 in the lockout season made them relevant for all the wrong reasons. Bringing in Collins would make the team relevant for a positive reason. Being 34, Collins should be able to absorb the slings and arrows of homophobic fans much easier than, say, a 22 year old just starting out in the league.

In my lifetime Michael Jordan has been the best non-mascot, non-cartoon pitchman (although, there was this), and this is an easy sell to the public. All he has to do is sell the social significance, not the basketball. Standing up for a brave man who dared to break down this wall and all that jazz. The people will lap it up. There may be cries of opportunism, but how much publicity can you really gin up off of a 34-year old 12th man? He's not selling jerseys or driving ticket sales. This is for the good of America, people, and so on. The NBA needs Collins on some roster, so Stern/Silver will owe him a favor (perhaps a Wiggins-sized favor?). Collins may not love being perceived as getting an affirmative action roster spot, but I'm pretty sure his agent could come up with 1.2 million reasons why that's preferable to having no spot at all. Plus, if he wanted to fashion himself as a gay rights activist, the platform he'd have as an active player is considerably more than useful than as a retiree, and North Carolina is currently a hotbed of political activity on the gay rights front, so he might be able to effect positive change as a local spokesperson.

The reasons to do this abound. The only reason not to do it is basketball. And thinking about it, Michael Jordan is known to make bad basketball decisions, so maybe he is already considering it.

Pensive Mike
Aight, I'ma think about it.

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