Jordan defends 'selfish' reluctance on politics

Michael Jordan (Getty Images)
Michael Jordan (Getty Images)

Michael Jordan has defended his infamous reluctance to be drawn into taking political sides during his NBA career, saying he never viewed himself as an activist.

In comments made on the latest episode of the hit documentary series "The Last Dance" on ESPN, Jordan addressed his oft-quoted quip that he had steered clear of politics because "Republicans buy sneakers, too."

Jordan said the remark, which came during the 1990 US Senate race in North Carolina between Republican Jesse Helms and Democrat challenger Harvey Gantt, had been a flippant comment made as a joke.

Helms was a controversial figure who had been accused of racism throughout his career, a staunch opponent of the 1964 Civil Rights Act who also opposed the establishment of Martin Luther King day as a US federal holiday.

"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 (public service announcement) 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."

Jordan added that he never saw himself as an activist athlete in the vein of former heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali.

"I do commend Muhammad Ali for standing up for what he believed in," Jordan said.

"But I never thought of myself as an activist. I thought of myself as a basketball player."

Jordan conceded that his apolitical stance might be viewed as selfish in some quarters.

"I wasn't a politician when I was playing my sport. I was focused on my craft," Jordan said.

"Was that selfish? Probably. But that was my energy. That's where my energy was."

In the same documentary, former US President Barack Obama said he believed Jordan could have spoken out more. 

"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. 

Jordan, now 57, insisted he had no regrets, saying he had sought to set an example by his achievements as an athlete.

"It's never going to be enough for everybody, and I know that," he said.

"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."

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