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When Worlds Collide: Michael Jordan & Michael Jackson

The thing people don’t get about sneaker collectors is that it’s often not about the sneakers themselves, but rather the stories behind them. You always remember your first pair of Jordans in eighth grade, or the sneakers you started college in, or the pair you got to celebrate getting a job you really wanted.

Nearly 20 years after I got those first gleaming white Cardinal VIIs, the magic of lacing up a fresh pair still hasn’t faded. If anything, it’s been bolstered by a growing sense of nostalgia; the sneakers you love bring you back to another time in your life when they were prominent, either on your feet or in general.

This gets to the heart of Nike’s inherent marketing genius with the Jordan Brand: Michael simply wearing the sneakers through the years. The ad campaigns have of course always been fantastic, but as his resume built, Jordan’s career timeline itself became the best selling point. To this day, collectors mindful of basketball history are drawn to Flu Games, or Last Shots, or Space Jams – or even the original Banned 1s, as that initial ad wizardry continues to pay dividends nearly 30 years later.

Along those lines, I didn’t think twice when Jordan re-released the Bordeaux VII back in the spring, despite never having owned a pair. One look at the above photo, a Bordeaux-clad Michael Jordan going one-on-one with Michael Jackson while making the “Jam” music video, and that was that. I bought them at midnight on release day, and broke them out for the first time this past week, when Jackson would have turned 53.

The picture itself is one of those entertainment/sports hybrid works of art reminiscent of Muhammad Ali punching out The Beatles in Miami, or any picture of Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe. It’s staggering to think how much talent there is between Jackson and Jordan, the most prominent entertainer and the greatest athlete – both pop culture icons nearly without peer in the American mainstream and abroad.

After all, who was on their level in the early-’90s in terms of worldwide recognizability? Bush and Clinton, Saddam and Gorbachev, probably Madonna, and a fictional Bart Simpson. I think that’s it, at least until O.J.‘s mad dash to notoriety.

Back before the Internet, when the music video was far more relevant and prevalent than it is now, the premiere of a new Michael Jackson video was a cultural event. They premiered “Black or White”, “Remember the Time” and “Jam” after episodes of “The Simpsons,” and it was all anyone at school would talk about the next day. (There was no Twitter to make things obsolete nearly as soon as they happened.)

Despite the participants, the video itself is actually relatively underwhelming. “Jam” isn’t a terrible song, but it’s not even one of the best on Dangerous – which wasn’t exactly Off the Wall or Thriller. But considering the talent at work here, that’s like saying Clyde Drexler‘s good, but he’s not quite Jordan. It’s just that “Jam” has a very early-’90s vibe, while most of his music is timeless; you’d expect it would be right at home in the soundtrack for White Men Can’t Jump, but that isn’t what you came to expect from Michael Jackson.

This isn’t to say the video doesn’t have its share of classic moments. Jackson kicks things off by hurling a basketball from outside a gym through a window and directly into a basket; could the climax of Spike Lee‘s He Got Game be an homage? That resulted in Jordan’s trademark whimsical eyebrow raise toward the camera, one of his patented moves en route to melting the hearts and wallets of Middle America.

Heavy D made an appearance in “Jam,” rapping a brief and incongruous interlude while Jackson executes an exaggerated and fairly ridiculous – intentionally so, I’d have to assume – gangsta lean.

Jackson also had Kris Kross in the video, and took them on tour with him. Kris Kross’ time on top of the world didn’t last long, but at that moment in time, every kid in my middle school had taken to wearing his pants backwards. It’s much like how a modern-day Jay-Z will work with whoever has buzz at the moment – witness Frank Ocean singing hooks on Watch The Throne. (Macaulay Culkin appearing in “Black or White,” and then weirdly becoming Jackson’s best friend, was another example.)

The highlight of the video, of course, is Jackson attempting to teach Jordan how to dance, in return for basketball lessons. It all comes off quite surreal; Jackson looks so completely out of place playing any sport and almost certainly has little interest in doing so anyway, and for someone eternally graceful on a basketball court, Jordan dances like he has about 10 left feet. But watching them awkwardly enter each other’s worlds nonetheless humanizes them both – especially Jackson, who lets his guard down a bit despite being on the brink of becoming even more bizarre than he already was.

The two were, then and now, regarded as demigods in their respective arenas, men to emulate in terms of sheer talent, excellence and achievement. No less than Notorious B.I.G. famously lumped them together with Mike Tyson in saying he performs like Mike, any one.

The sentiment remains; 13 years after “Victory,” Jay-Z “paid tribute” to Biggie’s iconic line as he’s not known to do. (No shame in continuing to invoke Tyson, by the way – he’s a comedic figure now, but anyone who remembers what he was in his prime would understand.)

All these years later, we’ve witnessed Michael Jackson descend most of the way into madness, and then pass away. Jordan is pushing 50 and doesn’t have nearly the aura he used to.

That said, while it’s doubtful Biggie had “Jam” in mind, it’s still significant simply in that we get to see them together. For a time, Jackson and Jordan, at the very height of their powers, were in the presence of greatness – each other’s, and their own.

While “Jam” is mostly a footnote in the respective oeuvres of both men, it remains a precious time capsule – and a worthy reason on its own to own a pair of Bordeauxs.

Follow Bryan on Twitter at @SportsAngle.

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