The Chicago Bulls legend offered lukewarm support after James was attacked by the president. But both men are more than capable of standing up for what they believe
Michael Jordan was going to have to respond, there was no way around it. With seemingly zero provocation, the president had called LeBron James stupid in a tweet, and he ended his comment with I like Mike, apparently making his choice clear in the most rehashed debate in US sports. As the rest of the league rushed in to defend James, there was a curiosity about how the notoriously apolitical Jordan would react. After all, if there is one major difference between the two players, it is in their differing approaches to social issues.
In the end, Jordan made a single, underwhelming statement: I support LJ hes doing an amazing job for his community. But if we were expecting more from Jordan then thats on us. If theres been one thing consistent with Jordan throughout his career apart from his otherworldly skills its been his reluctance to taking a political stance. It was true when he was the most famous athlete in the country with the Chicago Bulls and it hasnt changed much now that hes an owner with the Charlotte Hornets.
At this point, Jordans philosophy has been narrowed down to a quote he may never have even said. In an anecdote that first appeared in Sam Smiths book Second Coming: The Strange Odyssey of Michael Jordan, Jordan replies to questions about whether he would endorse North Carolina Democratic senatorial candidate Harvey Gantt over the arch-conservative Republican incumbent Jesse Helms by joking Republicans buy sneakers too or possibly Republicans buy shoes too. As Slates Laura Wagner has noted, the quote took several different forms in its transformation from an offhand (and possibly apocryphal) comment into the definitive distillation of Jordans perceived lack of activism.
Of course, the reason that the Republicans buy sneakers too has survived despite is dubious origins is that it does capture something true about Jordans priorities. Its possible that no one else has done more to solidify the idea of the athlete as brand as Jordan has. As great as Jordan was on the basketball court, he was equally as skilled when it came to marketing himself, particularly in regards to his partnership with Nike, and the two became practically synonymous. Jordan was, and remains, something of a corporation unto himself and its no surprise that he was unwilling to risk that by involving himself in partisan political concerns that could have hurt the bottom line. While he may never have uttered those infamous four words, he certainly seems to have lived by them.
Even when Jordan has waded into hot-button issues, hes gone through pains to avoid making a clear cut political stance. When he recently publicly pledged money to the Institute For Community-Police Relations and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund he attempted to find equivalence in an issue where there probably isnt any: I have been deeply troubled by the deaths of African Americans at the hands of law enforcement and angered by the cowardly and hateful targeting and killing of police officers.
Thats certainly a far cry from James taking to the court in an I cant breathe shirt in honor of the memory of Eric Garner and speaking out against the presidents de facto travel ban. Maybe its because hes a different person, maybe because its a radically different era, but James has spent much of the last few years managing to maintain his status as a global brand while expressing himself about some of the more divisive issues of our times. Its a tricky balance and not one without its pitfalls, including being called an idiot by the most powerful person on the planet.
Of course, as Myles Brown discusses in a thoughtful piece for GQ, its a bit too simplistic to dismiss Jordan and praise James. While Jordan may be disappointingly wishy-washy on matters outside of basketball, he was a radical force of change within the league. If Jordan hadnt spent all that time ruthlessly building up the Michael Jordan Brand, establishing himself as bigger than the league itself, James doesnt have the platform and influence he is currently using in such an admirable manner today.
In any case, while Jordan needed to respond to Trumps tweet, James didnt need his help in this particular case. He had enough experience with internet trolls to know that sometimes the power move is not to directly respond at all.