Year of the GOAT: Michael Jordan’s Giving Spirit


Michael Jordan has been in a giving mood throughout 2016 and it’s been awesome to see from basketball’s GOAT.

I don’t know what brought this about from Michael Jordan.

Maybe it was his marriage to Yvette Prieto three years ago (they’ve been dating since 2008). It could have been the birth of their twins two years ago. Or maybe, it was just a new social consciousness. The man is so darn rich now that no longer feels burdened by his army of sponsors.

Something fundamental has changed in Michael Jordan and it’s awesome to see.

The man who famously eschewed vocalizing his stance on several political and social rights causes during his playing career by noting that “Republicans buy sneakers, too” (to be fair, even that statement clues you in to which side he’s been on all along) is gone, replaced by someone who’s using his platform as the greatest basketball player in history to do something really good with his money.

After a lot of awkward years in the post-retirement wilderness, where Jordan has been lamely chided for fashion choices, showing emotion and making questionable ownership decisions, it’s really cool to see him in the news for being a good guy and giving back.

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Let’s catalog the giving. Things kicked off on December 15th, 2015, as Jordan donated $8.9 million in his earnings from a court settlement after a dispute with two Chicago grocery chains over using his likeness to (appropriately) 23 Chicago charities benefiting local kids.

Then, on July 25th of this year, he donated $1 million apiece to the newly-formed Institute of Community-Police Relations and the 76-year-old NAACP Legal Defense Fund in the hopes of strengthening police-minority relations. Earlier this month, on the 9th, he donated $5 million (and a jersey) to the National Museum of African American History and Culture. The Washington Post called it “the largest [donation] from a sports figure to the 19th Smithsonian museum.”

Finally, the cherry on top came last Friday, when Jordan sent two boxes of Jordan Brand swag (shoes and clothes) to Jeffrey Harris, a 33 year-old autistic man so far on the spectrum that he is unable to work. Harris had become internet-famous in July when footage was captured of him showing off some lockdown defense during a pickup game in Spokane, Washington. Jordan also called Harris personally to wish him well.

Jordan embracing his philanthropic side is a wonderful and wholly unexpected new wrinkle in his story. In the 1960’s, amidst a tumultuous civil rights movement, top NBA players stuck their necks out. Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (then Lew Alcindor) and Oscar Robertson all took major stands in major social moments alongside prominent athletes in other sports (most notably Jim Brown and Muhammad Ali).

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The Banana Boat squad — LeBron James, Chris PaulCarmelo Anthony and new Bulls shooting guard Dwyane Wade — took a stand at the ESPY Awards last month. It was a good first step in starting a social dialogue, potentially risking millions of dollars’ worth of marketing opportunities in the process. They haven’t contributed anywhere near the kind of money that the GOAT (Greatest Of All-Time) has. I’m really, really surprised to be saying that right now.

Signs of a change in making his politics public came when Jordan contributed to Barack Obama’s 2004 State Senate campaign. Jordan also held a $3 million fundraiser event for Obama’s 2012 presidential re-election bid. He pointedly did not make a big to-do list of these contributions at the time.

But now, he seems to be a bit more open to the power of his platform. In the case of those twin $1 million donations to encourage improved relations between the nation’s police and its African American citizens, he issued a terrific, declarative statement to The Undefeated.

Here’s a highlight from that statement:

“As a proud American, a father who lost his own dad in a senseless act of violence, and a black man, 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.”

We’re witnessing a watershed moment in the Michael Jordan legend, a time when his whole legacy may be re-framed to finally include his achievements off the hardwood. He has given away $15.9 million (and hundreds of dollars’ worth of sweet Jordan gear) in a bit more than nine months.

13 years after lacing up his Nike’s for the last professional time, His Airness is blazing a trail once again. Let’s hope the generation of NBA players who grew up following his every move have sat up and taken notice.