Is Michael Jordan Unjustifiably Blamed For Black America’s Sneaker Addiction?

Black America Has A Sneaker Addiction, But Is Michael Jordan To Blame

“Republicans buy sneakers, too” – Michael Jordan, 1990.
Translation: “Aye man, I just wanna get paid and not piss anyone off.”

Those ominous four words have haunted Michael Jordan’s legacy throughout its existence and have recently been brought back to light with an indictment from fellow (well, maybe not so fellow anymore) basketball star Kareem Abdul Jabbar. He speaks about Jordan’s lack of outspoken activism towards social issues, saying “he chose commerce over conscience.” Upon hearing this, I thought it to be a little unfair an accusation, but this is nothing new in the realm of the Black community.

 

 

Jordan has not only been relegated to the scapegoat of the hood’s craving for fly footwear, but has also been admonished multiple times for not saying enough (or anything at all) about social and economical inequalities and cultural issues. My argument is: Is that a fair expectation? Why does Jordan HAVE to be everything to us? He’s gotta be a superhero on AND off the court now?

 

Basketball historians argue to this day about how the legendary Nike deal got done, and whether it was Sonny Vaccaro or George Raveling who got Jordan to sign with CEO Phil Knight to create history. Depends on whether you believe the compelling ESPN 30 for 30 documentary, Sole Man, or what Michael Jordan claims.

What’s definitely factual is years later after Vaccaro secured dozens of Nike endorsements through personal connections and Jordan made Nike billions of dollars with his image, Knight fired Vaccaro and kicked him to the curb. Knight’s empire was already built on the backs of (mostly) Black athletes and (mostly) brown children, and Vaccaro had served his purpose of making the then-fledgling shoe business a global corporate machine, which has violated human rights regulations in multiple countries, but listing those would make this article entirely too long.

Now I’m not trying to make excuses for Jordan; the shoes could definitely cost less money, as ALL shoes could, really. I am trying to say that he is one of the DOZENS of athletes around the globe who have an endorsement deal with Nike. So is it HIS problem that he is arguably the GREATEST player at his sport and EVERYBODY wants to wear what the greatest is wearing? Sounds like good business to me.

 

However, incredibly good business usually goes at the expense of human rights. While the negligence of Michael Jordan has been deemed somewhat of a crime, it is no doubt that Phil Knight’s corporation is responsible for multiple documented cases of crimes against humanity worldwide. Counterpunch has a great article citing some major examples of Nike’s wrongdoings.

Also, while Michael Jordan is the first Black billionaire and has been seen to make his fortune off hands of mistreated workers everywhere, it is Phil Knight who has an estimated worth of $27.4 billion, according to Forbes last year (that’s AFTER taxes). What Jordan makes is literally PENNIES to what Knight brings in.
It sort of makes me wince to call Michael Jordan a puppet in all of this as Phil Knight pulls the strings of corporate craving and image corruption, but this seems to be the case, at least in the beginning when Jordan wasn’t as powerful. And yes, the Jordan brand is now a separate business in a legal sense, but they are still a division of Nike; Knight still owns the image of Jordan, LeBron, Kobe, Carmelo and all those other brothers who signed with Nike after #23 because they wanted to Be Like Mike. It is Knight who controls the wages of the people paid to make the shoe, and the price for which the shoe will be retailed. And let’s not just throw the cuffs on Knight; we also need to hold CEO’s of companies like Reebok, Adidas, Puma, and the like responsible for exploiting indigenous countries and Black commerce.

Michael Jordan is the poster boy of all of this because he’s the BIGGEST basketball star. And he’s the best. Still. 15 years out of the game and people still consider him the best. So out of the hundreds of athletes who have a shoe deal, all who have shoes that are sold for a fraction of what they cost to make, HE’s the cause of all the murder and suffering in the hood. I find that bogus. Dudes are getting shot over LeBrons, foamposites and AirMaxes too, and a lot of high priced Nike models, which have nothing to do with Jordan.

People target Jordan as the culprit in all of this because his NAME is on the shoe, and Knight, who doesn’t have such a personal affiliation to his own product, can fly below the radar of public opinion and be let free to run his company unethically. Does Knight have a right to exploit indigenous people and treat his employees lower than dirt? HELL NO; these workers should be paid and treated fairly.

 

But does Knight have an obligation to pay his spokespeople a handsome amount to equal their value to the company? HELL YES. If Jordan’s why they’re coming to buy your shoe, then he deserves every penny of endorsement money he asks for. You OWE that to him.

 

According to HighSnobiety.com, from the years 2002-2012, Jordan has made over $480 million in endorsement money from Nike.
That means he makes $48 million a year from them. Now take away 10% from the guy who got him that deal. Now take away 40% from taxes. Now take away another 10% to keep the lights on in that big ass mansion he lives in. And you could even argue that’s back pay for the way Jordan MADE that sneaker franchise the powerhouse it is today. In my opinion, Nike can’t pay Michael Jordan enough money.

 

Speaking of that big ass mansion, in Michael Jordan’s guest house (which is larger than any house I’VE lived in) there is a golden bull that sits atop the kitchen counter. I think it’s ironic that Jordan has a golden calf for his guests to admire, when it’s HE who has been the golden calf that has been falsely worshipped for the majority of his lifetime. Not that his greatness on the court should not be celebrated and revered (when we’re talking solely basketball, he IS the GOAT), but that he SHOULD go above and beyond his sports platform and be a leader of men. And while I consider myself to be a social activist, and deem it necessary to bring certain issues to light that others may try to dilute and denigrate, I don’t feel that everyone else HAS to. A part of me knows that a lot of people WILL NOT, because activism is all about change and people hate change, especially a 27-year-old who makes millions of dollars a year off of a shoe he didn’t even ask for. Hell, if I had his income back then, I wouldn’t want anything to change either.

 

Back to Kareem. Let’s be real here, Kareem is coming off as a hater right now. Not because he’s not making as much on a financial level, but just because the comments are pretty late. If Kareem said what he said back when Jordan was in his prime, and gave Jordan a chance (and a reason) to retaliate, then it would seem a little fairer and less resentful. In fact, Scoop Jackson has a wonderful article for ESPN rivaling Kareem’s claims and highlighting Jordan’s numerous contributions to the black community, specifically in the Raleigh-Durham area from which he hails.

Plus, I didn’t hear Kareem admonishing his Laker brother Magic Johnson when he rolled out his Converse-driven line of equally-ridiculously priced shoes in the early 90‘.

But we’re not talking about Magic’s now, because frankly, those shoes were WAAAAACK.
Let me ask me a question as a Black man, to other Black men and women: Why are we always looking for this ONE man to ’save’ us?

Why are we always trying to find our national Black representative in every generation of the civil rights movement, be it Marcus, or Martin, or Medgar, or Malcolm, or (lotta M’s during the big times it seems; maybe that was one of the rules to be a civil rights leader) Al, Louis, Jesse, or Barack? Why do we create a savior to dump our cultural expectations in? Why the “Black Jesus” complex?

 

And in the shortage of those leaders between the late 70’s until NOW really, we’ve handed that burden of civil rights representation to black people in the cultural spotlight that really didn’t ask for (or deserve) that responsibility, such as musicians, actors, and athletes. And as more blacks became successful in America, the outcry for social activism became less clamorous and the option to become neutral in those debates became more acceptable. Jim Brown and Kareem Abdul Jabbar, as well as Richard Pryor, Gil Scott-Heron, and Bill Cosby grew up in a hotbed of civil unrest and they (as more Blacks, and even Whites who grew up in those times) felt it was necessary to take part, whereas athletes and entertainers who grew up in later generations didn’t have that experience, and didn’t feel the need to put it to forefront. Nor were they expected to; Denzel Washington or Martin Lawrence hasn’t been asked to or accused of not giving enough money to the black community. What has Will Smith done for Black folk? Can the NAACP get a cut of Usher’s check, too? Tupac Shakur wasn’t asked to be a civil activist or a revolutionary, he just happened to have the mindset of one without realizing it, and maybe he was the exception to the idea, and maybe the reason that responsibility is now expected from every brother with his face in front of a camera. Maybe a person like me would relish that opportunity, but I don’t expect that mentality from every person I meet.

Focus on YOUR action and not another’s inaction.

 

If Black folk want other Black folk to stop killing each other over shoes, then we have to change the mentality that we have ABOUT the shoes, and the value we put on them. WE provide the demand and set the market value for these shoes that Nike prints out. WE decide how fly our gear has to be to step outside and we set the idea for what ‘flyness’ is. We decided when Tommy Hilfiger wasn’t worth wearing anymore. Unfortunately, we did the same thing for FUBU, too.

My cynicism says that even if tomorrow we decide as a culture that Jordans will never be worn again, we’ll find another fashion hole to throw our money into and we’ll be killing ourselves over another overpriced, ‘must-have’ brand (I‘m looking at YOU, Yeezy). My hope is that one day black folk will realize clothes are just something we put on so we’re not cold and embarrassed outside, and not so much stock will be put into our wardrobe. That’s unrealistic however, because as a culture, we HAVE to be fly when walking out the door, and millions of pictures (and patterned suits of the 70’s) reinforce my statement. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with looking fly and being fashionable, but have we honestly become slaves to the fashion that we have created?

 

The question shouldn’t be how much Michael Jordan does for the Black community, or how much Michael Jordan means to Nike, or Nike to Jordan, or anything like that.

The question should be: How much do Jordans mean to YOU?
Image Source: Adrian Franks


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