Jay-Z's $50,000 identity crisis
The NBA fined the Nets $50K when their part-owner visited with the Kentucky Wildcats
Let's give reasonable doubt some benefit.
Let's say that when Jay-Z visited the University of Kentucky locker room after the Wildcats earned a spot in the Final Four, it was innocent. He's cool with head coach John Calipari; he's a fan of the program; he was already at the game (it was in Newark). He offers congrats, blesses the team with some words, poses for pics in sunglasses with arms crossed. Roc star, inspiration.
Let's say the $50,000 fine the NBA laid on the New Jersey Nets (Jay-Z has partial ownership) for that stunt was a little unnecessary, but understandable. Only because Jay-Z went there representing the icon part of himself, not the minority-owner-of-a-professional-basketball-organization part.
The NBA has its own version of a restraining order. It states that no team owner or executive or coach or paid employee is to have contact or conversation with players who have remaining college eligibility. And if in 2007, the league fined the Boston Celtics $30,000 for GM Danny Ainge sitting next to and having a conversation with then-University of Texas star-in-the-making Kevin Durant's mother during the Big 12 tournament, then the $50K it put on the Nets for Jay's visit is easy.
Let's go back to the innocence for a moment, and the fact that, in this case, the person at the center is so much more than a hoops insider with an inside track to getting a struggling team a quality draft choice. Especially at the bottom of the first round, where the Nets sit.
Jay-Z went to the Wildcats' locker room as Hov, the Elvis of hip hop. He was in the building, front row at the game as a spectator, a fan, watching one of his favorite college teams ball.
They won. He used his juice to gain an all-access pass to congratulate the coach and his players. (Just as Ashley Judd, another celebrity UK fan, would have done.) Nothing more, nothing less. The same thing he would have done if he had zero percent ownership in the Nets.
What's a Jigga to do?
But hold up. Apparently, a week before the Jay-Z incident, another cultural and global icon had contact and conversations with another college team trying to advance in the NCAA tournament. And just like Jay, this "god" is an owner of an NBA team.
But when the University of North Carolina's ball team "happened" to bump into Michael Jordan in the parking area of the arena where they were playing, and the Charlotte Bobcats owner gave future-first-round-draft-pick-with-eligibility-left Harrison Barnes the "business" about wearing Kobe's kicks instead of his (Jordan Brand, of course), the Jay-Z rule didn't apply.
Videos surfaced of both meetings, but one launched an investigation while the other didn't. It is as though one innocence was innocent and the other wasn't; one meeting unintentional, the other full of it intent, that is.
Smells kinda, sorta iffy, right?
Emails and calls to the NBA, the Nets, Jay-Z's "people" and the University of Kentucky came back responsive, but unenlightening and unofficial. Beautifully cryptic. No one went on the record or said anything more than, It's a done deal, it's over, keep it moving.
But I was told that Jordan's "encourage" was inadvertent; Jay-Z's wasn't.
That's the word they used. "Encourage." Love that word.
So the difference between one and the other is happenstance. Schematics, it may seem to you, but separate rules may apply when it comes to Michael Jordan and Jay-Z and their power of "encouragement." Which is something Jay-Z, who is six years deep into this NBA ownership game, might need to take note of.
Now the question is: Is this fair? And not only because of the parallel in situations with Jordan, but also because of Jay-Z's positions in both society and professional sports. His situation being so unique, it has to be asked: Should the law be carried out to the letter with him, even (or especially) in cases in which he is not acting in the role of the minority owner of a professional franchise?
Or is it Jay-Z's job to learn how to play this game?
(Message to Hov: Jay, next time be slicker about it. Don't RSVP to the invite to the locker room, just "happen" to be in the same area where the buses pull in at the precise time the team arrives. Better yet, make arrangements to perform during the next Final Four, and when you and the team of your choice happen to cross paths, just say you were there for a sound check.)
Real talk: If Jay-Z is going to be serious about his minority ownership in the Nets, he's going to have to know -- at all times -- when he can be Jay-Z and when he has to be Shawn Carter. The lines can no longer be blurred.
The $50K the league slapped on the Nets is just a warning, a slap on his diamond-encrusted Rolex. Whether he forgot, didn't think about it or didn't know -- or whether something deeper went on or is behind Jay-Z's locker room visit -- the greatest, most influential poet of the past two generations has to adjust his way of co-existing in a world that has allowed him to be more than just another byproduct from Brooklyn.
In the professional sports ownership game -- not the record label president game -- he has to be S. Carter 24/7. No excuses, no remorse.
Ask Mark Cuban, ask James Dolan, ask George Shinn, ask Magic Johnson, ask Jordan himself. Ask any owner -- partial or primary, current or former -- and they will tell you that ownership doesn't always equate to privilege. Even if you came into it as a global icon. Even if people look at you as a god.
They'll tell you the NBA has its own blueprint.
Scoop Jackson is a columnist for ESPN.com.