Kareem Abdul-Jabbar made the media rounds in anticipation of last night’s 90-minute HBO documentary about his life. Kareem: Minority of One debuted at 10 p.m. EST, and it follows Kareem from his childhood in New York City to perhaps the most dominant college career ever at UCLA, and finally, his 20-year career in the NBA with six MVPs and six championships.
Unlike many athletes after him, with some notable contemporary exceptions, Kareem was also heavily involved in political matters of his day, appearing with other African-American athletes at the Muhammad Ali summit in 1967 (Bill Russell, Jim Brown and others were also in attendance), while famously changing his name from Lew Alcindor to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar after winning an NBA championship with the Bucks in 1971.
Contrasting with Kareem, Michael Jordan kept his political beliefs shrouded behind the Nike swoosh he helped launch to the top of the athletic brand landscape when he came into the NBA in the 1980s. When Jordan was asked to endorse Charlotte Mayor Harvey Gantt in his 1990 North Carolina senate bid (and again in 1996) against famously bigoted incumbent, Jesse Helms, the Bulls star infamously said, “Republicans buy sneakers, too.”
In an interview with NPR earlier this week, Kareem was asked about the comment and — like he’s always done — spoke his mind despite knowing how it would be taken.
[HOST, MICHAEL] MARTIN: I mean, you know, Michael Jordan was asked to endorse, you know, Harvey Gantt get in the very competitive, you know, Senate race, where there was – he was running against somebody who had very retrograde racial attitudes. And he’s famously quoted as having said, you know, Republicans buy sneakers, too.
ABDUL-JABBAR: You can’t be afraid of losing shoe sales if you’re worried about your civil and human rights. You can’t be worried about that.
ABDUL-JABBAR: It’s just the way it is. He took commerce over conscious. That’s unfortunate for him, but he’s got to live with it.
MARTIN: Are there any athletes today whose stances you admire, or who are using their public platforms in ways that you would appreciate, that you feel…
ABDUL-JABBAR: Oh, there’s several. LeBron James, when he came out with the words on his warm-up jersey about I can’t breathe. And there were two players that played for the Cleveland Browns who were really – what’s the best word? – they were outraged by what happened to Tamir Rice being shot like that. Cops drove up to him and shot him dead in two seconds. And these were guys that had male children. And they realized that their children could have been Tamir Rice, and they said something about it. And so I’ve got to take my hat off to them. It wasn’t convenient. The Cleveland police force threatened them. But they said what they had to say, and I’m glad they did it. I’m glad they had the coverage. I’m glad they were not afraid.
“Commerce over conscience” is the clincher, and it’s why we almost put it in the headline. It’s also a small fraction of what Kareem said, so we implore you to listen to the rest of the interview, or read the full transcript, which is almost as fascinating as the HBO documentary.
After retiring, Kareem is now an accomplished best-selling novelist and essayist whose writings have appeared in Time and elsewhere; we like to think of him as more of an intellectual than a retired Hall of Fame center. (You really must read Mycroft Holmes, even if you have no idea what five orange pips mean.)
But there are other things to ponder, even though we agree with Jabbar’s pointed criticisms of the former Chicago Bulls star and current Charlotte Hornets owner.
Michael Jordan is currently the only African-American NBA owner. He’s been almost as successful with his brand as he was during a career that gives him the loudest — and most empirically correct — claim to G.O.A.T. (greatest of all-time). Forbes estimates that MJ makes close to $100 million a year from his brand these days (retro re-releases just print money), and it’s allowed him his unique place as the only minority majority owner in the National Basketball Association. The fact that he’s been largely apolitical during his career in the spotlight isn’t mutually exclusive with how he’s done financially and what that wealth (truth wealth) has allowed him to accomplish.
Plus, MJ’s stridently laissez-faire approach to social issues of the day has weakened as he’s grown older.
So, we think it’s a shade unfair how Kareem worded his answer, even if we totally agree in the foundational beliefs that led him to say what he did. It’s just as important as all the fun things that happen on a basketball court, where both Kareem and Michael Jordan both reigned supreme.
Now check out…
A Definitive Ranking Of Michael Jordan’s All-Time Best (And Worst) Jerseys
by Pete Blackburn
In addition to being arguably the best basketball player to ever grace the hardwood, Michael Jordan is also one of the most influential athletes in the history of sports fashion. Even to this day, Jordan’s literal and figurative footprint in the sneaker game is undeniable. More than a decade has passed since his final NBA game, but it seems like nearly every new Air Jordan release still draws hoards of consumers itching to get their hands on it.
But Jordan’s fashion reach extends beyond just footwear. Given his impact and accomplishments in the sport, nearly every jersey that MJ has ever pulled over his head has turned into an iconic uniform in its own right. Wearing a Jordan jersey isn’t just a fashion statement, it’s a cultural statement.
So, in celebration of his 53rd birthday, here’s a complete ranking of the threads that Jordan wore through his days as a collegiate and professional athlete.
12. Any Baseball Jersey
As great of a basketball player as he was, Michael Jordan’s experiment with baseball was underwhelming. In nearly 500 plate appearances, Jordan hit just .202 as an outfielder in the Chicago White Sox farm system and never played in an official Major League game.
So, while none of Jordan’s pro baseball jerseys are particularly bad in the visual department, they don’t really hold any significance other than reminding us that Jordan playing pro baseball was actually a thing. But, hey, at least he had a few highlights.
11. Washington Wizards (2001-03)
It’s always weird to see an iconic athlete switch jerseys after so many years with the same team. These Wizards jerseys were pretty terrible to begin with, but they were made even more difficult to digest when Jordan came out of retirement (again) after three years and joined Washington. After spending 13 seasons in the NBA with the Bulls and the Bulls alone, it was (and still is) jarring to see Jordan donning gross teal and gold instead of Chicago’s red and white.
10. Chicago Bulls (Home, 1984-85)
The jerseys the Bulls wore during Jordan’s rookie year are kind of a mess. The front of the home jersey featured the typical ‘BULLS’ arched lettering, but the number was located off-center and inexplicably low, leaving a ton of awkward white space between the two.
Luckily, the road uniform wasn’t nearly as bad (more on those later) and the Bulls didn’t wait long to do a complete overhaul. But still, these jerseys resemble a poorly manufactured high school uniform more than an NBA team.
9. TuneSquad (1996)
I guess jersey design isn’t the most pressing issue when you’re assembling a basketball team to try and save the world, but surely Warner Bros. could have done a little better than these while in the drawing room for Space Jam. Although not terrible by any means, the TuneSquad threads are pretty basic and boring.
If Jordan’s Space Jam jersey was a little better, you’d probably see a lot more of them in circulation. After all, people love a good sports/pop culture crossover reference. I guess we’ll just have to see what uniforms they roll out with the inevitable sequel starring LeBron James at some point down the line.
Side note: The Monstars jerseys were the most moronic things to come out of Moron Mountain. Not only are their uniforms trash, every player wore the number 0. That seems bad.
8. Washington Wizards (Alternate, 2001-03)
As strange as it was to see Jordan play for the Wiz, the Washington Bullets throwbacks they occasionally wore were fantastic. Yes, it’s still uncomfortable to see Jordan wear any NBA uniform other than a Bulls jersey, but had the Wizards wore these full-time during the Jordan era, it would have been a little easier to swallow. A little.
7. Chicago Bulls (Oddities)
When Jordan returned to the Bulls following his stint with baseball, he did so wearing the #45 that he had rocked as a member of the White Sox. Despite only wearing it for 22 games before switching back to his trademark #23 in the middle of the NBA playoffs, the number 45 has a pretty large significance on Jordan’s career.
45 was actually Jordan’s basketball jersey number throughout high school, until his junior year when he played on the varsity team with his older brother Larry–who also wore the number. Michael ended up choosing a number that was half of 45 (22.5), which is how he ended up with 23.
Jordan explained in his autobiography that the 45 also played a role in his Olympic number nine. Jersey numbers on Olympic basketball teams only go up to 15, so Jordan came to the number nine by adding four and five together.
But Jordan’s oft-forgotten jersey number is the #12 that he wore for exactly one game with the Bulls under bizarre circumstances during the 1989-90 season. Prior to a game in Orlando, Jordan’s #23 jersey was stolen out of his locker. Without a backup Jordan jersey on the road, the Bulls scrambled to find a replacement via a fan or store nearby, but had no luck. Thus, Jordan had to wear the nameless spare #12 jersey that the team packed.
Jordan and the number 23 have basically become synonymous over the years, so it’s a bit of a shock to the system to see him wearing any other number, especially with the Bulls. But as odd as they seem, both the 45 and 12 have pretty great stories attached to them.
6. Chicago Bulls (Road, 1984-85)
This is the road counterpart to the jersey listed at #10 on this list, and it shares the same weird spacing issue between the lettering and number on the front. That being said, the slanted cursive ‘Chicago’ pairs infinitely better with the off-center number placement on the front. This is so close to being a great jersey. If the number was moved higher to kill the awkward amount of dead space, this would probably slide into the top three.
5. Chicago Bulls (Alternate, 1997-98)
The Bulls did a pretty great job of putting together black alternates to create a change of pace in their jersey rotation. Red, black, and white is one of the easiest color schemes to make work in sports, but the Bulls did a great job mixing and matching during the Jordan era to create some awesome jerseys. As great as this one is, it loses points given how great its predecessor was. More on that later.
4. Team USA (1984, 1992)
Jordan only played on two Olympic teams, but both won gold. Of course, the one that stands out is the 1992 “Dream Team.” Not only did that squad have an absurdly talented roster that steamrolled the competition, they also wore some pretty great uniforms with a fantastic logo.
In addition to being worn by big names, the jersey itself had some big names. Check out the size of the typeface on the back of the jerseys. The only explanation is that Team USA wanted their opponents to easily identify exactly which American players were destroying them as they jogged back on defense after every possession.
As for the ’84 jerseys, the deep v-neck collar and thin shoulder straps made the jerseys kind of resemble a wrestling unitard. They weren’t anything special, but the awesome Dream Team jerseys carry Jordan’s USA jerseys into the top five.
3. Chicago Bulls (1985-98)
This…this right here is Jordan’s signature look. The Bulls went through very slight variations of these uniforms throughout Jordan’s 13-year tenure with the team, but this was the look in which Jordan established his legend on a nightly basis. These are the unis that he won six titles in. These are now iconic.
It’s fitting, too, because it’s a great look. Simple, but great. Can you imagine Jordan becoming one of the greatest the game has ever seen and winning six championships while rocking the ’90s Pistons teal? Nah.
2. University of North Carolina (1981-84)
There’s a reason why the North Carolina Tar Heels have more or less kept a similar look for decades: It’s an amazing look. The number splitting ‘NORTH CAROLINA’ on the front is a great look for college basketball teams, and the baby blue & white scheme is hard to screw up. However simple the jersey may be, it’s a classic and is deserving of a spot near the top.
1. Chicago Bulls (Alternate, 1995-97)
Just look at the picture. Look at it.
This is the best jersey that both the Bulls and Michael Jordan have ever worn, which is saying a lot. As great as Chicago’s primary set was during the Jordan era (and it basically remains the same to this day), the addition of pinstripes took it to another, amazing level. Why don’t all the Bulls jerseys have pinstripes? WHY?!
But, seriously, it’s almost a crime that this jersey wasn’t worn longer and more frequently during Jordan’s era in Chicago. It’s incredible.