Former President Barack Obama said he was upset that NBA legend Michael Jordan didn’t use his fame to engage in Democrat political activism during his historic run with the Chicago Bulls in the 1990s.
The six-time NBA champion has largely avoided social commentary and political activism throughout his very public life and career.
Unlike many of today’s NBA players, Jordan apparently knew he was at his best when draining shots and dunking on his on-court adversaries.
Still, the basketball legend’s penchant for letting his talent speak for him wasn’t good enough for Obama, who said he wished Jordan would have inserted himself into social activism by, at the very least, endorsing a Democrat in his native state of North Carolina three decades ago.
As outlined in ESPN’s Jordan documentary “The Last Dance,” currently airing on the network, Jordan refused to endorse Democrat Harvey Gantt, who was challenging incumbent Republican Jesse Helms in North Carolina’s Senate race in 1990.
In the 1995 book “Second Coming,” author Sam Smith wrote that Jordan was asked to endorse Gantt but declined.
Jordan was quoted as saying, “Republicans buy sneakers, too.”
“He wasn’t into politics, he explained, didn’t really know the issues,” Smith wrote.
Smith said Jordan made the “sneakers” comment to a pair of his Bulls teammates.
The Hall of Famer addressed the quote, and whether he needed to correct it, Sunday in the ESPN documentary series.
“I don’t think that statement needs to be corrected because I said it in jest on a bus with Horace Grant and Scottie Pippen,” Jordan said.
“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,” he added.
On being compared to activist boxer Muhammad Ali, Jordan said: “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,” he said.
But Obama, who resided in Chicago and represented Illinois in the Senate before being elected president, was displeased.
“I’ll be honest, when it was reported that Michael said ‘Republicans buy sneakers too,’ for somebody who was at that time preparing for a career in civil rights law and public life, and knowing what Jesse Helms stood for, you would have wanted to see Michael push harder on that,” the former president said in “The Last Dance.”
“On the other hand, he was still trying to figure out, ‘How am I managing this image that has been created around me, and how do I live up to it?'” Obama added.
But Michael Jordan does not live to be told how to behave — and will not be corraled into supporting the political causes of Democrats.
Michael Jordan – “Republicans buy sneakers too”
The GOAT never bent the knee to politics.
— Jeremy Prime (@DDayCobra) May 4, 2020
“It’s never going to be enough for everybody, and I know that,” Jordan said in the ESPN series. “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.”
While his decision to remain apolitical might be intertwined with his business interests and merchandise sales, Jordan’s choice to remain apart from partisan politics is something many of us wish the current lineup of NBA stars would do.
Jordan’s behavior, both on and off the court, resulted in him being revered as one of the greatest athletes to ever play competitive sports and helped him to acquire more than $2 billion in wealth, according to Forbes.
Meanwhile, he never alienated half of his fans, or supported Democrats or dictatorships, by overestimating his influence.
Perhaps more star athletes should try to “Be Like Mike.”
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