A couple of months ago, while scouring the internet for sneakers and nearby sushi restaurants, I stumbled across a headline; “Michael Jordan Opens Community Center.”
To the average person, this would be innocuous. Why on earth would anyone give two shits about a retired billionaire athlete giving back to the community? Me, that’s who. This was gold. Finally, Michael was giving back to black folks. He was making us proud by proving that he never forgot where he came from.
I immediately began to ponder what metropolis this inaugural community center would debut in. Could it be Chicago, the city where he cemented his legacy as the GOAT en-route to claiming a metric-ass ton of accolades and superlatives, but now finds itself experiencing an epidemic of catastrophic proportions with respect to gang-violence and poverty? Or maybe it would be located in Charlotte, a place where he has deep ties and currently serves as owner of the hometown Hornets.
Either way, it didn’t matter. This was something for us. Jordan was extending a subtle gesture of appreciation to his underprivileged fans for supporting him. It was his way of saying, “Thanks for buying my inflated, recycled sneakers all these years while I lined my pockets with profit, despite the many lives that have been ruined, or even lost, in pursuit of my products.” FINALLY, he was recognizing us as being critical to his success.
I clicked the link, eager to read about what brought about this sudden benevolence. What could possibly delineate this generosity? And then it hit me, like a Bill Lambeer foul in the 1990 Eastern Conference Finals. “Michael Jordan Set to Open Community Center In China.” Really? REALLY?
After all these years of us, BLACK PEOPLE, hoarding retros in an attempt to stay fly. After standing in ridiculously long lines, for a chance to irresponsibly purchase sneakers beyond our means. After enduring the excruciating wait, staring at our computer screens for hours, combating bots and resellers, to obtain a piece of nostalgic bliss, you’re opening a community center in China? CHINA?! Really Jordan?
We’ve always supported Jordan. We rushed to box offices to see Space Jam. We drank Gatorade and took jump shots with our tongues out. We purchased Hanes t-shirts and underwear despite his ill-advised Hilter mustache.
All because we believed in HIM. A black man, from Wilmington, North Carolina. A black man who revolutionized the game of basketball. A black man who turned a professional basketball career into a financial empire. And yet, despite all this, instead of showing his appreciation for our devout fanhood, he’s opening a place of solace and refuge to kids across the pond? Naw, negro.
Now before I continue my rant, allow me to clarify a few things. First, Jordan’s not opening a community center, per se. He’s aligning his WINGS initiative with Youth Outreach, a Hong Kong-based community center that provides mentorship to at-risk youth. While the headline was misleading, it’s still a big deal as this is the first time the Jordan Brand has committed to a permanent philanthropic initiative.
Second, I get it. This is about money. Last year Jordan controlled 58% of the U.S. basketball footwear market with $2.6 billion in sales. It’s important to note that Nike, Jordan’s parent company, saw a 30% increase in revenue within China.
Moreover, Jordan took a rare loss when Chinese officials declared Qiaodan, a knockoff company predicated on replicating “His Airness,” was not infringing upon his famed brand by using his likeness. Thus, what better way to build upon Nike’s momentum and Jordan’s global presence, while saying “fuck you Qiaodan,” than to gain some positive publicity in the land of billions? It’s a smart business plan.
But all that’s beyond the point. What matters here is that Michael Jeffrey Jordan is choosing greed over principles. He’s ignoring the plight of those who’ve invested in him to maximize his capital.
While the FAMU educated economist within me understands this move as a sound financial strategy, the 29 year-old born and raised in Detroit, Michigan thinks this is complete and utter bullshit.
After all these years, we still idolize Jordan as if he’s a black super hero. We exalt him as an example of what someone with brown skin (dark brown at that) can achieve if they work hard and stay committed.
Yet, in a time when we need him most, amidst rampant racism and the persistent disenfranchisement of African-American youth, he seems more interested in satisfying his desire to substantiate his empire.
He would rather improve the life of a Hong Kong teenager, who probably labors for a shitty wage, cobbling his shoes in a sweatshop that’s barely compliant, and hardly regulated, than assist a black kid from Chicago’s south side who’s at risk of being gunned down while wearing them. That’s bullshit.
But maybe we shouldn’t be that flabbergasted. After all it’s not like MJ has ever used his increasingly powerful presence to advance the social agendas of those who share his pigment. It’s not like he didn’t know aggressively pricing his deliberately scarce products would lead to an insatiable demand, thereby driving heinous actions to obtain them. It’s not like he even bothered to show up to his own “WINGS for The Furture” event in Inglewood, CA to provide a glimmer of hope to deprived aspirants.
Over the years, Jordan has continually showed us how little we mean to him. And despite the many ways he’s told us that we’re not the target demographic for his products, we still desire them, and foolishly provide our unyielding support.
So I suppose the real surprise is that I assumed this new community initiative would be different. I suppose I was mistaken in my belief that Jordan would assist those who sought to follow in his footsteps. But if shadowing MJ leads to greed and power as our sole purpose for existence, maybe its best that our youth aren’t “Like Mike.”