On Monday, Michael Jordan decided to break his Clarence Thomas-like silence on race relations in this country to denounce the killings of unarmed black men, women and children at the hands of police. In a piece for The Undefeated, Jordan also condemned the killings of cops and donated $1 million each to the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the International Association of Chiefs of Police’s Institute for Community-Police Relations.
It's with great thought and all due respect that I say, "F—k Michael Jordan."
The cause doesn't need his money, or his statement or his sympathy now; we needed it then, back when his name held weight. Back when he was the largest athlete on the planet. Back in 1990, when African-American U.S. Senate candidate Harvey Gantt was trying to wrestle North Carolina away from the racist control of Sen. Jesse Helms. That's right, the same Jesse Helms who didn't want to make Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday a national holiday. Jordan was asked to endorse Gantt, a request to which he famously replied, "Republicans buy sneakers, too."
Jordan has always been in the business of taking care of Jordan. A more accurate logo befitting his legacy would be the iconic Jumpman holding a fistful of cash, dunking it directly into Jordan's suit pocket. A friend texted me Monday asking if I'd read Jordan's statement on the brutal killings of unarmed African Americans by police. My response was, "I guess Jordan has taken the under on black death and is trying to make sure he doesn't lose his money."
Where was Jordan's voice in 1991 when Los Angeles was on fire after Los Angeles police pulled over motorist Rodney King and beat him like a piñata? This was before cellphone cameras. This was before social media. Nowadays, cop beatings are recorded and shared frequently. But back then, video cameras were expensive and the size of a suitcase. To actually capture a beating on camera was like spotting Bigfoot. Rodney King's beating was a social-justice unicorn caught on film. For once, we had undeniable proof. And not only was Jordan silent on the issue, but when asked about what was the biggest race-related incident at the time, he claimed that he wasn't up on the news.
His then-teammate Craig Hodges, the most socially conscious NBA player not named Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, even called Jordan out for his silence.
"When they came to Michael after the L.A. deal went down and asked him what he thought, his reply was that he wasn't really up on what was going on," Hodges said in a 1992 interview with the New York Times. "I can understand that, but at the same time, that's a bailout situation because you are bailing out when some heat is coming on you. We can't bail anymore."
And bail is exactly what Jordan did after his 1992 championship team went to the White House. Hodges used his platform to pass a note to then-President George H.W. Bush, asking that the leader of the free world do more to help the black community. Probably didn't help matters that in a sea of ill-fitting 1990s-NBA-style suits, Hodges wore a dashiki. It's believed that the move embarrassed the NBA, and Hodges was not only cut from the Chicago Bulls but was allegedly blackballed from the league. Hodges was a three-point specialist and backup point guard for the Bulls. Jordan, was well, Jordan. Surely a word from one of basketball's elite could have landed Hodges back on the team or at least a tryout. But Jordan did what Jordan does.
So when it comes to issues of black death, leave it to the WNBA. The women of this league are actually risking something. They are the ones who are really putting it on the line. Not some old man whose better days are behind him. Stick to golf and cigars and let LeBron, Carmelo, Chris Paul and all the other NBA players who are actually risking losing endorsement money by sticking their necks out to call for an end to black death handle this.
If Jordan really wants to use his voice and cachet to stop violence, how about he talk with Nike and demand that it stop making shoes that carry his name and likeness so expensive and unattainable that kids are being killed for them? How about he call Dazie Williams and tell her he's sorry that her 22-year-old son, Joshua Woods, was killed after he purchased a pair of his shoes? That's one area where his voice could actually be effective.
Donating millions in blood money doesn't make you kind or great or even decent. Jordan is just like every other old king this world has ever known and is doing what old kings do when they look back on their reign and realize there’s blood on their name. His legacy on the court is undeniable, but off the court, f—k Jordan.
Stephen A. Crockett Jr. is a senior editor at The Root. Follow him on Twitter.