Michael Jordan could be key to making Pacers profitable

December 2, 2011
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There may be no love lost between Indiana Pacers wing Brandon Rush and Charlotte Bobcats owner Michael Jordan, but make no mistake, Pacers owner Herb Simon and team president Jim Morris should be thanking their lucky stars for the man with the famous line of sneakers.

Once a great Pacers killer, the man who kept the Reggie Miller-led team from winning a ring or two is now the biggest ally the Blue and Gold has in the battle of small versus large market NBA franchises.

“I don’t even know why I’m still wearing Jordans,” Rush tweeted this month.

Rush isn’t alone among NBA players in his disdain for the Hall of Fame player turned ruthless owner. But one camp’s traitor is another camp’s knight in shining armor. 

During the off-season NBA lockout, Jordan became the leader of the league’s hardline crusade to reduce players’ salaries.

While that’s bad news for players, it’s good news for financially struggling teams like the Pacers, which according to Forbes magazine has lost more than $15 million each of the last two seasons.

Forbes estimates that Jordan’s Bobcats have lost more, with losses over the last two years approaching $40 million.

Jordan’s team is the poorest of the poor among the NBA’s 30 franchises. His team has no talent and few prospects of contending for a playoff spot—much less a championship.

Jordanhas been labeled a turncoat—and far worse—by players. At one time he championed a capitalist system which allowed players to get as much as any owner would pay them. This off-season he came alongside the Pacers’ Simon and six other owners who lobbied NBA Commissioner David Stern to go for the jugular in its bargaining battle with the players.

Stern decided on reducing the players’ take of basketball-related income from 57 percent to 50 percent under the new collective bargaining agreement expected to be ratified next week. Jordan insisted the players’ take be reduced to no more than 47 percent.

Jordan might have lost part of this battle, but you can be assured one of the most competitive men to ever lace up high tops isn’t done fighting the war.

Next he’ll turn his sights on large market teams like the one he used to play for in Chicago. The Bulls, according to Forbes, bring in more than $50 million in profit annually, and NBA sources said Jordan is ready to lead the fight for more revenue sharing.

He’ll find an ally in his one-time on-court nemesis, the Pacers. Herb Simon, and his late brother Mel, have been fighting for more revenue sharing for a decade. The Simons and other small market teams have only made modest headway.

NBA teams share less than 40 percent of total revenue. A paltry amount compared to the 80 percent NFL teams share.

After the new collective bargaining agreement is ratified, NBA owners are expected to hash out a new revenue-sharing plan that will up the shared revenue to 50 percent of all money generated.

The savings from reduced player salaries and the new revenue-sharing plan still won’t likely be enough to get the league’s poorest teams—like the Pacers and Bobcats—into the black on a regular basis. One league insider said “break-even” is the best those teams can hope for.

Break-even has never been good enough for Jordan. And while he’s a relatively new owner, Jordan still has plenty of clout within this league and is quickly growing his status among the elite ownership set.

It wasn't long ago that Jordan told Washington Wizards owner Abe Pollin, “If you can't make it work economically, you should sell the team.”

Anyone who knows Jordan knows he’s not about to quit this game. So if quitting—or in this case selling—the team is not an option, that only leaves one thing. Making it work.

And making it work for the Bobcats likely means crafting a system that at least has the potential to make it work for the Pacers.

A one-time nemesis, yes. An arrogant pain in the you-know-what? No doubt.

But now he may be the Pacers’ best shot at long-term financial viability in Indianapolis.

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