Michael Jordan's Bulls Jersey
As a Chicagoan, it was amazing for me to live through the time that the Bulls were reigning. My mom is a huge sports nut. She was always at the games, and I would go with her. She is 94 now and still a huge sports fan, but she watches everything on TV. Sports is the closest thing we have to tribalism in America. The beauty of America is that we aren’t tribal but when it comes to sports, so many of us have an allegiance that’s irrational.
Michael Jordan was the most extraordinary, successful athlete in his era, and maybe ever. I look at this jersey and the No. 23 and think, “What happened to No. 45?” Because when he retired, he changed jersey numbers, and when he came back, he wore a different number.
The NBA had gone through a time in the 60s and 70s where there was corruption and drugs, and not so much success in terms of fans around the country, at least on a broad scale and in pop culture. In 1979, when Larry Bird and Magic Johnson played in the NCAA finals (Indiana State against Michigan State), they were the two best players in the country. They were then both drafted to two of the major basketball markets, the Celtics and the Lakers. Because of that, the league began a resurgence and started to have broad success and popularity. That was then spurred by media coming into a new generation, and the NBA now having new TV contracts and these very marketable, successful athletes. The commissioner of the NBA at the time, David Stern, cleaned up the league and made it more of a marketing vehicle, not only for itself but for corporations. Michael came right on the heels of that, and so I think his incredible talent took all of that good momentum and spring-boarded it even further and faster.
Watching Michael Jordan play and then watching the rise of the commercialism of the gear — the sneakers and the brand of a human being — crossed over from athletics. I grew up in New York. I can picture Joe Namath and his fur coat like it is standing in front of me, but he didn’t sell fur coats and he didn’t sell cars and gold rings. The appropriate commercialization of Jordan’s awesome power, combined with the Spike Lee Nike command of commercialization, was absolutely present and, for me, laudatory. People like to deprecate it, but it’s a valuable lesson in the art of the commercial, being driven by one of the greatest athletes on the face of the earth — certainly, in the sport at the time.