In a sport in which athletic achievement is often overshadowed by publicized off-court incidents, Michael Jordan's announcement that he will lead the Washington Wizards' basketball operations gives the NBA an immediate boost, people involved in the basketball industry say.
"Obviously Michael's success as a player and as an ambassador to the game worldwide can only help the league at a time when some fans are questioning the character of some players in the league," said Bill Strickland, a Washington-based sports agent. "I think Michael--by his mere presence--begins to address that issue and will provide a role model that is unchallengeable both from a fan's standpoint and a player's standpoint."
NBA Commissioner David Stern said in a statement that the NBA looks forward "to working closely" with Jordan "on all matters pertaining to basketball and its international growth." He called yesterday's announcement "terrific for the Wizards, for Michael and for the NBA."
Jordan retired as a player last January, just as the league and its players' association resolved a lockout that caused the cancellation of the first three months of the 1998-99 season. For many teams, attendance has stagnated, and in some cities, declined.
Jordan--even as an off-court entity--will give the NBA a needed marketing boost, said Bob Williams, president of a Chicago-based sports marketing firm.
"It's gigantic for the NBA," he said. "Unfortunately, there hasn't been another athlete who has stepped up since Jordan's retirement to fill the void that Michael left, not only from an on-court standpoint but from a marketing standpoint. Nobody has been able to transcend the sports page as Michael did.
"This is huge. It's a great marketing opportunity for the NBA. There have been a number of negative things that have taken place since Michael retired that have given the NBA a black eye."
Dean Bonham, president of a Denver-based sports and entertainment marketing firm, said Jordan's new role could turn attention away from off-court incidents that have become so troublesome for sports leagues.
"The top four major sports leagues today have an increasingly difficult issue to deal with--[athletes] strangling coaches, shooting girlfriends and wives, dealing drugs, driving while intoxicated and having children out of wedlock," Bonham said. "In my opinion, these issues threaten the foundation of professional sports in this country. Somebody like Michael Jordan can assist in that because he is a model to emulate."
Williams said the NBA must maintain a positive image to maintain long-term sponsorships.
"You cannot have athletes' names on police blotters," he said. "What Michael does is overshadow that. The benefits for the NBA will happen very quickly because there's going to be a lot of Michael Jordan stories between now and the end of the season."
Neil Pilson, former president of CBS Sports and currently a television sports consultant, agreed that "any association with Michael Jordan is a good one for the league. It will generate a huge amount of media attention. For many years, Michael Jordan was considered as the spokesman for the NBA, and having him back as an executive is very positive for the NBA."
People involved in the basketball industry anticipate Jordan will play some role in marketing the NBA in North America and beyond.
"Bright marketers are probably going to try to come up with ways to have Michael--while he's promoting the Wizards--promote the NBA at the same time," Bonham said. "One would expect to see, first and foremost, a dramatic economic impact on the Wizards organization. I think that's going to be a function of both Michael's name and persona as well as his acumen in the sports world. In the NBA, just look for overall promotional and merchandising initiatives that help bolster the NBA and take advantage of Michael Jordan being part of the NBA again."
If "Mr. Jordan Comes to Washington" was the hottest show in the nation's capital yesterday, it received good reviews in other NBA cities.
"It's wonderful that Michael is back actively in the NBA. We have missed him," said Pat Williams, the Orlando Magic's senior executive vice president. "Obviously he can't draw people into the building as he did as a player, but his presence in the league gives everybody a lift. This is a huge 'plus' day for the NBA to have Michael back. He means so much for this sport around the world."
Staff writers Mark Asher and George Solomon contributed to this report.