Arrow-right Camera

Jordan Milks Comeback For All Its Worth

They became rich off Michael Jordan for years. Now he wants them all to pay for his return, each NBA team, every NBA owner, individually or collectively. He doesn’t care how. Just how much.

No matter what’s come out of this orchestrated week in Chicago, the real reason behind the hesitation move in Jordan’s comeback has nothing to do with whether he can still move with a basketball well enough or get in shape soon enough.

He has never doubted his skills or his shape. He isn’t starting now. Why, on Tuesday, in his first practice back, Jordan drove the lane against Bulls center Luc Longley, slammed the ball home and then taunted, “That’s what’s wrong with this team. No one puts the other guy on his butt when they should.”

But it was in the NBA offices where Jordan’s strongest move was being played out this week, according to a league source. Jordan was asking the NBA for money to return. Big money. Millions upon millions above what Chicago would pay him.

“Look what he’s giving the league just by discussing a return,” the source said. “Look at the interest in it. It’s the biggest thing you’ve seen even before it’s actually happened. He sees that, too.”

You see, Jordan figured the NBA didn’t pay him properly the first time around. So he wants to correct that this time.

As it stands, the pro-rated $1.03 million he’d get from this existing Bulls’ contract reflects only a drop in the basket of what Michaelmania II would bring the league.

Jordan knows he has the hammer in his hands right now. And he wants his due. He wants every team to throw their fair share into the kitty or the NBA to give him a kingsized lump sum for returning.

He’s working another angle, too, asking NBC to pitch in for his return, since the network has three regular-season telecasts left with the Bulls, plus the playoffs. He knows NBC gets a ratings bonanza in those because of him. And he wants cut in that pie.

So there are two fascinating stories surrounding Jordan’s return. First, the question from a basketball standpoint of how he’ll play, if he’ll be the same, can he push a mediocre Bulls team to a title and in so doing become the greatest sports headline of all?

No one is betting against Jordan in this. No one ever has on a basketball court.

The second story: Jordan’s push for money. It explains why this comeback is moving in slow-motion. Think of it. Jordan returns to Bulls practice one day, gets America salivating, says he’s officially done with baseball another day (the first good news out of the strike yet) and gets people salivating more.

So here we are. Still no announcement that he’s definitely back in the NBA.

Why? Because he’s trolling the financial waters. He wants to build pressure to get all the money possible on the table.

No wonder. Just Friday, the Heat sold 1,000 tickets for the April 17 game against Chicago. That’s a trickle-down effect every owner is seeing. It’s small stuff, too, compared to ratings and merchandise sales.

Commissioner David Stern wants Jordan back above all else. But at the cost of funding his return? It’s a precedent he doesn’t want to set, and really can’t.

Jordan wants to play. He wants to be paid right for it, though. From the NBA. From NBC. Ante up, he’s telling them. And so he’s waited this week, seeing if they will as the swirl of excitement around his return builds and the money it generates does, too.

Tags: Commentary