- The Washington Times - Monday, May 4, 2020

In one of the new episodes of the ESPN docuseries “The Last Dance” that looks back at the career of Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls dynasty’s final NBA title, Jordan defended himself for the time he chose not to endorse a black Democratic candidate for Senate by saying that “Republicans buy sneakers too.” 

Jordan said he made the comment in jest, but defended his right to stay out of political matters at a time when he was among the most famous men in the world.

The incident came up in 1990, when Democrat Harvey Gantt ran against Republican incumbent Jesse Helms for a U.S. Senate seat in Jordan’s home state of North Carolina.

“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 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.”

Former President Barack Obama appeared for the second time in the series to discuss his mixed emotions over Jordan not condemning the Republican incumbent for what were viewed as racist stances. Mr. Helms opposed the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, and he filibustered against making Martin Luther King Jr. Day a national holiday.

“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,” Mr. Obama said. “On the other hand, he was still trying to figure out, ‘How am I managing this image that has been created around me, and how do I live up to it?’”

Mr. Obama, who spent much of his life in Chicago, awarded Jordan in 2015 with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.

The documentary — though Jordan’s production company, Jump 23, was heavily involved and signed off on the final product — framed the apolitical Jordan in contrast with Muhammad Ali and his activism. Jordan said he does “commend” Ali for standing up for his beliefs, but it wasn’t his own style.

“I wasn’t a politician when I was playing my sport,” Jordan said. “I was focused on my craft. Was that selfish? Probably. But that was my energy. That’s where my energy was.”

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