Michael Jordan Addresses ’Republicans Buy Sneakers’ Comment 25 Years Later. Barack Obama Weighs In Too.
One of the most controversial quotes of Michael Jordan‘s illustrious basketball career finally got an explanation Sunday night during ESPN’s The Last Dance documentary. Jordan stood by his oft-quoted maxim “Republicans buy sneakers, too” because he was a basketball player, not a political activist, he said.
“I wasn’t a politician when I was playing my sport,” Jordan said 25 years later. “I was focused on my craft. Was that selfish? Probably. But that was my energy. That’s where my energy was.”
The quote first appeared in Sam Smith‘s 1995 book Second Coming but it references Jordan’s decision to not endorse U.S. Senate hopeful Harvey Gantt in 1990. Gantt, who ran in Jordan’s home state of North Carolina, asked the NBA superstar if he would take part in an endorsement video. Jordan said no.
“[Jordan] wasn’t into politics, he explained, didn’t really know the issues,” Smith wrote. “And, as he later told a friend, ‘Republicans buy shoes, too.'”
Jordan stood by the quote and said, “I don’t think that statement needs to be corrected.” It’s been disputed as late as 2016 if Jordan even uttered the phrase, but the 57-year-old said it was “thrown off the cuff” in a conversation with former Bulls teammates Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant.
Former President Barack Obama, who’s made several appearances in the documentary, said he related to the position Jordan was put in as a young civil rights lawyer after the comment blew up.
“I’ll be honest when it was reported that Michael Jordan said ‘Republicans buy sneakers too’ — for somebody who as at that time preparing for a career in civil rights law and in public life — and knowing what [Gantt’s political opponent] Jesse Helms stood for — you would have wanted to see Michael push harder on that,” Obama said.
In the first episode of The Last Dance, ESPN’s Michael Wilbon compared Jordan to boxing legend Muhammad Ali when discussing how famous the basketball star was in the 1990s. After his sneaker comment, Jordan admitted that the two are not that similar after all.
“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,” he said.
“The way I go about my life is I set examples,” Jordan continued. “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.”
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