Michael Jordan was famously apolitical during his playing days, refusing to endorse a Democrat because ‘Republicans buy sneakers too’.
There came a time in Jordan’s career when he encountered a fork in the road. His legacy as a player was almost set -a few championships would crown him as the greatest player of all time.
He’d already displayed dominance hitherto unseen by any player in the league, let alone a guard. He’d already sold more sneakers and introduced more fashion into the sporting world than any other basketball player before him. The question that remained was – who did he vote for?
African-Americans at that time were slowly being assimilated into a joint, united social fabric of the country. The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s had borne fruit, and black people in America were getting their voices heard better than before.
And yet, there remained a sense of social injustice born out of centuries of oppression and segregation. These telltale signs of obvious racism were still present in much more brazen and apparent fashion back in the 90s than today.
Michael Jordan refused to endorse Harvey Gantt, a Democratic Party Senate race contestant
Jordan had the opportunity to endorse Harvey Gantt, a former mayor of Charlotte in the Senate race of 1990. He categorically refused to do so on the advice of his mother Deloris.
He told Gantt’s people from the Democratic party that he didn’t want to divide or polarize his fanbase. In his mind, leaning one way or the other politically would be bad for his sneaker sales. In his own words, ‘Republicans buy sneakers too’.
This incident kickstarted an era where athletes began posturing more and more apolitically. According to many NBA writers, this was where Jordan turned down the chance to stand for social justice.
He had the opportunity to begin and hop on the social justice train, much like Muhammad Ali. But Jordan was not concerned by politics at that time. In his mind, he was a basketball player slated to win ball games, and he couldn’t take his focus off all aspects related to it.
Gantt understood completely where Jordan was coming from. He remained a fan of the GOAT even after the above incident.