CC Sabathia & 5 Athletes Who Took Jordan Brand Beyond Basketball

The lion’s share of Team Jordan athletes are, of course, basketball players. But one of the things that has set the Jordan Brand apart as an eternally thriving entity is that it’s never been just about basketball. The Jumpman has branched out to football and baseball players, boxers, Paralympic athletes and even a jazz saxophonist.

One of the most prominent non-hoops members of Team Jordan is CC Sabathia, a six-time All-Star and a World Series champion with the Yankees. While Sabathia has been one of the best pitchers in baseball for years, as a sneaker collector, I admit to typically being more intrigued with his array of amazing Jordan player edition cleats. The Space Jam-esque Jordan XIs they cooked up for his 200th-victory milestone last week were especially outstanding.

The Jordan Brand obviously takes care of its own, but the affection is clearly mutual; Sabathia appears to value his affiliation just as much as they appreciate having him on the team. “I’ve had the opportunity to meet (Michael Jordan) a few times,” Sabathia told me at the Jordan Brand Classic All-American Game, at which he sat courtside. “He’s just such a great role model and a great player. It’s just a really great thing for me personally to be a part of the brand.”

Speaking of which, the Jordan Brand goes especially all out when one of its athletes achieves something particularly special. As part of their celebration of CC Sabathia’s 200th win, Jordan announced a scavenger hunt in New York City on Saturday, with prizes including Air Jordan IV Toro Bravos, Yankees tickets and Jordan cleats signed by Sabathia. Perhaps the coolest of all is the opportunity to contribute to a commemorative mural to be displayed at a Boys & Girls Club in NYC. (Full details on how to enter are here.)

Watching Sabathia thrive as a standardbearer for a brand based on a basketball player got us thinking about some of the other relatively esoteric members of Team Jordan over the years, helping to build the brand’s eclectic and eponymous legacy. Here are five that stick out to us, along with their most notable ad campaigns.

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When the Jordan Brand started branching out with athletes other than Michael, it aimed high. At the time Jordan signed Light Heavyweight champion Roy Jones Jr., he was regarded as the best pound-for-pound boxer in the world, basically the Floyd Mayweather Jr. of his day. Not to mention, in terms of Jordan connection – besides being hands-down the best at his particular sport – Jones was quite the basketball player himself, as he was quick to tell you.

It was always striking to see Jones striding to the ring decked out in a Jordan Brand robe and boxing boots. (His ring shoes were so damn cool, I had quite an internal debate about whether I could pull off the look, despite that they stretched up and over my calf. I decided against it, though I did have a pair of Roy Jones boxing shorts.) A workout fanatic, Jones promoted some of the early-model Trunners, with the most memorable ad featuring him running in place underwater while wearing them.

As even the greatest in boxing find out – and make no mistake, Jones is an all-time great – age catches up to all of them eventually. Jones won 49 of his first 50 fights, with his only loss coming on a nonsense disqualification against Montell Griffin. Then Antonio Tarver knocked Jones out cold and took his title. Jones was never even close to the same after that, losing six of his next 13 fights. He’s rumored to want to fight MMA juggernaut Anderson Silva next; I could only imagine how that would go.

But that doesn’t take away from the glory years, when Roy Jones was the baddest man in the world, stunting with a Jumpman on his trunks. If you don’t agree, well, ya’ll must have forgot. And as talented as current Jordan Brand boxer Andre Ward is, he has some big boxing boots to fill.

Yes, these two were traditional basketball players, but their impact was anything but ordinary. When the Clippers got Chris Paul last year and became “Lob City” and all that, it reminded me of the last time L.A.’s other team was all the rage. Right around Y2K, the Clippers had a young nucleus of Lamar Odom, Darius Miles and Quentin Richardson, and they were the coolest thing in the NBA next to Allen Iverson. It seemed like everywhere you went in the summer of 2001, people had on Nike swingman Miles jerseys.

Jordan Brand bought in like the rest of us did, adding Miles and Richardson to the fold to promote the Air Jordan XVII, along with Ray Allen. The thinking was that the two young Clippers would help the brand cross over into a new generation, kind of like Dwyane Wade with the Jordan 2010 and Russell Westbrook with the XX8.

The concept was correct, but the Clippers didn’t live up to it, missing the playoffs until Q-Rich and D-Miles were long gone. Richardson bounced around the league as a serviceable but unspectacular three-point threat, while Miles never quite lived up to his prodigious athleticism and advanced billing.

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But the marketing campaign for the XVIIs, set in a smoky jazz club, remains untouchable. Miles actually got his own ad, but it paled in comparison to the “Duet to You” spot with Richardson tossing alley-oops to Miles to the tune of Gang Starr‘s classic “Now You’re Mine.” The two Clippers phenoms may not have been a cornerstone of the Jordan Brand’s future as originally intended, but they will forever be a terrific part of its past.

It seems strange in retrospect that Randy Moss was one of the first members of Team Jordan – not as strange as Vin Baker, but still. It wasn’t that he wasn’t good enough, either. Moss was the greatest and most dynamic receiver of his generation, holding a slew of records, most notably the single-season touchdown mark.

It’s more that Moss was a certified space cadet, not to mention something of a felon. From the marijuana busts, to running over a traffic officer, to driving Joe Buck to hysterics by mooning the crowd, Moss stirred up his share of trouble over the years, which doesn’t seem to fit in with the carefully cultivated image of Jordan and his eponymous brand.

And yet, the positives Moss offered always seemed to outweigh the less positive moments. As much a knucklehead as he could be, he was also very funny, as evidenced by stuff like this. And his association with Jordan bore plenty of fruit. Moss’ PEs were always buzzworthy – I’d kill for this white-purple XI to release – and the Moss sneakers that actually hit shelves weren’t too shabby either.

In terms of Moss marketing campaigns, nothing topped his Nike ad with West Virginia high school teammate Jason Williams and the Dukes of Hazzard theme song. But it’s sort of perfect that Moss was featured in “Overjoyed,” the dead-serious official introduction to the first new members of Team Jordan. MJ has had football players since, but with apologies to Andre Johnson and Terrell Owens, he hasn’t had anybody as good or as colorful as Moss.

The signing of Derek Jeter to Team Jordan seemed a bit out of place at first. Like Moss, it wasn’t that he wasn’t a good player; he played for the most recognizable team in professional sports, and he had just finished hitting .349 with 24 home runs, both still career-highs. It was more the idea of having the Jordan Brand sign just one baseball player initially, and to have it be someone generally feted for his intangibles more so than his statistics.

Of course, picking Jeter seems more prescient with every year that passes. The Jordan Brand could just as easily have gone after Mark McGwire or Sammy Sosa, each of whom hit more than 60 home runs that season before fading rapidly into ignominy. Instead, they went with Jeter, who has steadily carved out a Hall of Fame career, along the way becoming the most enduring and marketable player in his sport by far. It certainly helps that he plays for the Yankees, but there’s no question Jeter just has a certain It Factor of his own.

Over the years, it’s become obvious Jeter fits right in with the namesake of the Jordan Brand in terms of work ethic, and their marketing of him follows suit. At 38, the innings appear finally to be catching up to him, but it’s hard to bet against someone who prepares as hard as Jeter does.

“If you follow basketball at all,” Jeter said a few years ago in a Jordan promo, “you have to be a fan of MJ.” Switch the sport to baseball, and it’d be difficult for even the biggest Yankees hater there is not to begrudgingly admit the same about Jeter.

She is arguably the least well-known Jordan athlete, but April Holmes – the first-ever female member of Team Jordan – is as much an inspiration as any of the household names on the roster.

Holmes lost her leg in a train accident in 2001, but she didn’t let it limit her. Instead, she expanded her horizons, becoming one of the fastest paralympians in the world en route to 14 world records and a gold medal in the 2008 Paralympic Games. The whole time, her candor and humor were just as impressive as her athletic feats.

“I discovered who I was,” Holmes told Space Coast Daily last summer. “What I learned is that I was the same person, but now without one leg. I had five less toes, which meant I got a discount when I got a pedicure.”

Holmes is now a sought-after inspirational speaker, while her April Holmes Foundation helps to provide support and financial assistance for people with disabilities. Make no mistake; Holmes is an incredibly talented athlete. But what Jordan recognized is that there are far more ways than just running fast to inspire people.

Who are your favorite Jordan athletes outside of basketball?

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