KARNICK: Michael Jordan’s NBA Exit Comes At The Right Time As The League Follows In Bud Light’s Footsteps

(Photo by Franck Fife//AFP via Getty Images)

S. T. Karnick S. T. Karnick is director of research for The Heartland Institute.
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With the American public reacting forcefully against woke public relations activities by major corporations and entertainment groups, big companies are beginning to back down. Soon, investors will join the exodus if they believe these companies are going to take a long-term hit in their pocketbooks.

In fact, a very big domino has already fallen. Michael Jordan, a six-time National Basketball Association (NBA) champion and widely seen as the greatest professional basketball player of all time, is selling his majority stake in the league’s Charlotte Hornets franchise.

This is a smart and highly meaningful move by Jordan, one of the savviest businessmen in the sports world. Jordan appears to have realized that we have reached “peak NBA” in the wake of the league repeatedly attacking its fan base in the 2010s and 2020s with a barrage of left-wing political statements both on and off the court.

The NBA has long been the “wokest” sports league and has befriended the Chinese Communist Party in pursuit of foreign money, while increasingly ignoring and directly affronting its U.S. fan base.

Phil Jackson, the coach who led Jordan and the Chicago Bulls to six world championships and the Los Angeles Lakers to five, said in April of this year the NBA had become so political that he stopped watching the games.

A YouGov/Yahoo News poll found that nearly half of the country changed its sports viewing habits once political and social messaging began to spread across the NBA,” Outkick reported in its story on Jackson’s comments. (Jackson soon backtracked, with an amusingly implausible explanation that he meant the comments as humor, under furious pressure from woke mobs.) Two months later, Jordan announced he is selling the Charlotte Hornets.

Jordan is evidently seeing the court very well. As of last week, Target, Anheuser Busch, and Kohl’s had lost a collective $28.7 billion in market value since the beginning of April, after coming under fire for transgender promotions. These companies backpedaled under public pressure, though it seems likely that they will reverse course again as soon as they think it is safe.

A related and particularly interesting move is the decision of Major League Baseball (MLB) to downplay its “Pride” celebrations this year. That choice was overshadowed by a heated controversy over the Los Angeles Dodgers’ promotion of an anti-Catholic hate group under a special dispensation from the league office, yet the league’s decision to back off the sexual politics represents a real concern. MLB could see that its “Pride” emphasis was damaging the league’s bottom line.

Given the NBA’s contrasting reluctance to back away from woke politics, Jordan is getting out at the right time. He is going to make a huge profit from his investment: Jordan bought the team for around $275 million in 2010, and it is now worth around $3 billion.

The AP’s story on the subject—reprinted at the NBA’s website—emphasized the team’s lack of on-court success during Jordan’s tenure as owner, with the team having gone 423-600 under his tenure and failing to make the playoffs in the past seven seasons. The AP story also foregrounds the fact that Jordan’s selling of the franchise—in which he plans to retain a minority financial interest—means that the league will have no black owners. Approximately 72 percent of the players in the league are black.

It was inevitable, of course, that the media reports on Jordan’s team sale would stress the Hornets’ poor win-loss record under his ownership—a legitimate point—and the upcoming lack of a black team owner. The latter is of course a political and cultural obsession among the nation’s most powerful media outlets.

The race angle, however, distracts from the highly important fact that Jordan, a shrewd businessman, is shorting the NBA. One of the league’s most successful players of all time is pulling his money out of team ownership in the league where he made his name.

Jordan once said that he was staying out of politics as a player because “Republicans buy sneakers too,” referring to his extremely lucrative endorsement of Nike shoes and sportswear, along with many other commercial activities. The one thing that is certain about the NBA today is that it does not seem to care that Republicans buy tickets and watch television sports too.

The real lesson here is obvious once you look beyond the race issue. Jordan could easily afford to keep his majority stake in the Charlotte Hornets. He has in fact increased his portfolio by a couple of billion dollars by owning the team—thus far. That steady rise in value is about to end, it appears, because the NBA has chosen to reject its fan base and chase after a new one—like the corporate owners of Bud Light.

Jordan is fleeing the NBA as the league continues its protracted rejection of its fans in favor of political advocacy and foreign money. The league’s most successful player of all time is pulling his money out. Soon it will be very clear that the only thing that can save this direly woke sports league is …. Saudi Arabia.

S.T. Karnick is a senior fellow and director of publications for The Heartland Institute, where he edits Heartland Daily News and writes the Life, Liberty, Property e-newsletter.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller.