NBA taps Michael Jordan to translate owner-player relationship

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Charlotte Hornets owner Michael Jordan responds to a question during a news conference on October 28, 2014, at Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, North Carolina. - Jeff Siner/The Charlotte Observer/TNS

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Charlotte Hornets owner Michael Jordan has a unique role in NBA labor relations — translator and bridge-builder.

Since at least 2018, Jordan has served as chairman of the NBA’s labor relations committee. Though the Hornets aren’t part of the playoffs, Jordan was included in the conference call planned Thursday afternoon between players and owners to work out a return to play.

The NBA specifically mentioned Jordan’s presence in a press release, saying the league hopes to resume playoff games Friday or Saturday, following a video conference. The league postponed three playoff games Thursday, after the Milwaukee Bucks and later other teams declined to play Wednesday afternoon.

Commissioner Adam Silver highly values Jordan’s credibility with the players, as a former five-time NBA Most Valuable Player. He spoke about that, in response to a Charlotte Observer question, at summer league in 2018.

“There’s no doubt that so many players look up to him. Many in our current class of superstars look across the table and think, ‘That’s where I want to be one day,’ ” Silver said.

“He brings unique credibility to the table when we’re having discussions (with the players). And even just among the owners, he’s able to represent a player point of view,” Silver said.

“When owners are going into discussions with players, Michael can say, ‘Well, look, this is how I looked at it when I was a player, and these are the kind of issues we need to address if we’re going to convince players that something is in everyone’s interest.”

The Bucks refusing to play Wednesday was an effort at social change. It resulted in a dialogue with Wisconsin government officials, regarding the police shooting of Jacob Blake.

The players want further dialogue with NBA owners about actions that can be taken to address issues, such as voter suppression and police violence.

Jordan and his Nike subdivision, Jordan Brand, have pledged $100 million over the next 10 years to initiatives to address what Jordan calls “ingrained racism.” The first of those grants were directed at voting rights. Spectrum Center, which the Hornets manage, will be used as an early-voting polling place.

In a media availability before the 2019 All-Star Game was in Charlotte, Jordan was asked about his role as a labor-relations “translator” between NBA owners and players.

“I pull on both sides to try to communicate to both sides,” Jordan said. “Those are tough conversations to have because emotions get involved sometimes.”

Jordan is the only former NBA player with a controlling ownership of one of the 30 franchises. He said he helps other owners with tone in how best to interact with players on touchy issues.

“There’s a certain way to say it (to players) so they understand it,” Jordan said. “And then, on the players’ side (it’s explaining), ‘Hey, this is how the business operates. This is the goal, this is the piece of pie that we need to understand, that we need to show and grow.’ ”

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