"Republicans buys sneakers too."
It's a quote that hangs over Michael Jordan to this day. In 1990, black Democratic candidate Harvey Gantt was running for the US Senate in Jordan's home state of North Carolina against the incumbent and notorious racist Jesse Helms. Jordan's mother asked the NBA superstar to help the campaign publicly. He refused to do so, and uttered the infamous words to his Chicago Bulls teammates.
Jordan would go on to the be the greatest basketball player of all time and arguably one of the top two or three most famous athletes of all time. However, he was consistently shied away from political activism, something that has drawn criticism for decades.
In The Last Dance documentary, he explained what happened in 1990 and his stance in general.
It was thrown off the cuff. My mother asked to do a PSA for Harvey Gantt, and I said, 'Look, Mom, I'm not speaking out of pocket about someone that I don't know. But I will send a contribution to support him.' Which is what I did.
I do commend Muhammad Ali for standing up for what he believed in. But I never thought of myself as an activist. I thought of myself as a basketball player.
I wasn't a politician when I was playing my sport. I was focused on my craft. Was that selfish? Probably. But that was my energy. That's where my energy was.
It's never going to be enough for everybody, and I know that," he said. "I realize that. Because everybody has a preconceived idea for what I should do and what I shouldn't do.
The way I go about my life is I set examples. If it inspires you? Great, I will continue to do that. If it doesn't? Then maybe I'm not the person you should be following.
So soon after The Last Dance reinforced Michael Jordan as an apolitical figure, many were even surprised when he released a strong and unequivocal statement last week supporting Black Lives Matter protests around America and condemning the systematic racism that still haunts America.
— Charlotte Hornets (@hornets) May 31, 2020
Now, Jordan has gone a step further. He and his company are pledging a donation of $100 million over the next 10 years or oganisations engaged in the fight for racial equality and social justice.
Jordan Brand released a statement pledging the money, saying, "Black lives matter. This isn't a controversial statement. Until the ingrained racism that allows our country's institutions to fail is completely eradicated, we will remain committed to protecting and improving the lives of Black people."
Joint Statement from Michael Jordan & Jordan Brand regarding $100m donation. pic.twitter.com/yYXWh5eBZl
— Estee Portnoy (@esteep) June 5, 2020
30 years later, Michael Jordan stance on being an activist appears have softened.