Michael Jordan addressed one of the most famous quotes of his career — “Republicans buy sneakers, too” — in the fifth episode of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” on Sunday.
Jordan, who has largely stayed away from any political commentary throughout his public life, didn’t back away from the statement — which came during the 1990 U.S. Senate race in North Carolina between incumbent Republican Jesse Helms and Democrat challenger Harvey Gantt — in the documentary, saying it was made in jest.
Jordan went on to say that he has never seen himself as a role model.
“I don’t think that statement needs to be corrected because I said it in jest on a bus with Horace Grant and Scottie Pippen,” Jordan said. “It was thrown off the cuff. My mother asked to do a PSA for Harvey Gantt, and I said, ‘Look, Mom, I’m not speaking out of pocket about someone that I don’t know. But I will send a contribution to support him.’ Which is what I did.
“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.
“I wasn’t a politician when I was playing my sport. I was focused on my craft. Was that selfish? Probably. But that was my energy. That’s where my energy was.”
In one of several appearances former President Barack Obama has made in the documentary, Obama discussed Jordan’s comment, saying that as a young activist, he wished Jordan had said more on the subject, but it isn’t always that simple.
“I’ll be honest, when it was reported that Michael said, ‘Republicans buy sneakers, too’ — for somebody who was at that time preparing for a career in civil rights law and knowing what Jesse Helms stood for, you would’ve wanted to see Michael push harder on that,” Obama said. “On the other hand, he was still trying to figure out, ‘How am I managing this image that has been created around me, and how do I live up to it?'”
Jordan then doubled down on his position.
“It’s never going to be enough for everybody, and I know that,” he said. “I realize that. Because everybody has a preconceived idea for what I should do and what I shouldn’t do.
“The way I go about my life is I set examples. 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.”