JOHANNESBURG – When Michael Jordan finally made it onto the centre of the Spectrum Center court on Sunday with two minutes and 52 seconds left of the NBA’s All Star game, his touch was all too brief.
In what must be one of the most understated birthday celebrations, Jordan’s only role in the game itself was a ceremonial handover of the match ball from Charlotte, where he now owns a team, to Chicago, where he made himself into a global icon. ‘The Windy City’ will host the 2020 All Star Game, but the 2019 one’s final recognition of the sport’s greatest player felt all too muted.
Heck, it was the man’s 56th birthday after all.
Michael Jordan had been all over this NBA All Star Weekend. His brand was stuck up all over the city, he was a guest of honour at the NBA’s announcement of its support for a professional league in Africa but at the end of a weekend of festivities, with more stars in attendance than there are on a Hollywood boulevard, the celebration of one of sports true greats, was extremely understated.
The reasons for that may become clear at some point, perhaps Jordan may have wanted it that way, but it didn’t feel right.
Close to the game’s end, with the result all but confirmed in favour of Lebron James’ team, Jordan strolled to the centre of the court, a standing ovation from the crowd and all the players participating in the 2019 All Star game, greeting him. That was only right. It is Michael Jordan. In his home state, in the arena of the NBA club he owns.
Without Michael Jordan the NBA and Nike don’t become the global brands they are currently. It was Jordan, on the back of the brilliance of the 1992 USA ‘Dream Team,’ who went on to become a truly global superstar in a sport which until then had been largely American. Now the NBA hosts regular season games in Mexico City and London, exhibition games in Beijing and Johannesburg, with more expansion to come into India.
It’s no exaggeration to state that all of it is owed to Jordan.
As is Nike’s status as the biggest sportswear brand in the world. The company was in the midst of a sportswear ‘war’ with Adidas and Reebok in the mid-1980s - which it was losing - but their association with Jordan and specifically the creation of the Air Jordan Brand - the one with the logo that is a silhouette of Jordan jumping - helped to elevate them above the competition.
So yes; Lebron, Ronaldo, Neymar, Nadal, Serena and Tiger all owe Jordan a ‘thank you.’
It was reported that in 2013, the 'Air Jordan' subdivision of Nike made $2.25 billion.
Jordan himself still earns $100-million a year from Nike - he played his last professional game in April 2003.
But Jordan’s role on the final night of what has been a fun week, was limited. A ceremonial handover, a quick hug with his close pal Spike Lee, and he was off.
It was very understated for the NBA. This from an organisation that is a trendsetter not just in terms of sport, but culturally, commercially and technically too. They know how to celebrate and show appreciation for their ex-players, as they did in a touching ceremony before the start of the fourth quarter when greats like ‘Magic’ Johnson, David Robinson, Julius Erving, Bill Russell and Allen Iverson were honoured.
All in all it was another raucous celebration of all that makes the NBA the most innovative and hip sports league in the world.
But it feels like an opportunity was missed as well. Jordan deserved more, after all he gave so much to the sport.@shockerhess