MORRISSEY: For Michael Jordan, time passes, but the brand plays on
BY RICK MORRISSEY email@example.com February 16, 2013 7:16PM
Michael Jordan moved and carried himself like no other, and his shoe sales today illustrate just how unforgettable he became. | Getty Images
Updated: March 18, 2013 7:01AM
There are two ways to look at Michael Jordan’s staying power at 50.
1. The NBA players who came after him have been worthless and weak and should be ashamed of themselves.
2. There will never be another MJ.
Let’s go with No. 2 because it’s true and because it’s no fun picking on the defenseless, even though Jordan made a Hall of Fame career out of. It’s not the fault of the post-Michael players that they were born without the basketball-transcendence gene or the you-will-buy-my-Nikes-even-though-another-pair-of-shoes-is-the-last-thing-you-need gene. The man turns 50 on Sunday and is as revered now as he was when he walked away from the game.
Nike’s Jordan Brand accounted for 58 percent of the U.S. basketball shoe market in 2012, according to SportsOneSource.com analyst Matt Powell. The rest of Nike held 33.7 percent. Of shoes costing more than $100, the market share of Jordan’s shoes jumped to 62.6 percent. That, friends, is truly insane, especially in an era in which consumers want the latest in everything.
Jordan’s not even so yesterday. He’s so 1998, the last time he played meaningful basketball (sorry, Washington Wizards).
Kobe Bryant tried to be the next MJ. He’s a great player, but when you’ve patterned your entire game and on-court presence after Jordan — when you’ve stood in front of a mirror and practiced talking like him! — you can’t be better than him if it’s a tie. And it’s not.
LeBron James is every bit as talented as MJ and, who knows, might get those ‘‘not five, not six, not seven’’ titles he predicted. But he hasn’t gotten them yet. And he doesn’t have Jordan’s ‘‘it.’’
What is ‘‘it’’? The fact that we’re still discussing it 15 years after his sixth and final NBA title with the Bulls is a tribute to the sway he has over so many people.
What is “it’’? It’s the way his body moved as a player. You can talk all you want about his will to win and his dominating, domineering personality, and you wouldn’t be wrong. But there was something about the way he swept across a basketball court that had never been seen before and hasn’t been seen since. Even the way he walked, with a rhythmic hitch in his step as he worked over a wad of gum in his mouth, was unique. It spoke volumes. It said, ‘‘There’s a very good chance I’m going to dunk on you in a humiliating fashion.’’
Physicists tell us that there is no such thing as hang time, that gravity is gravity. Try telling that to the hundreds of defenders who thought they were going to block his shot and then fell away like wounded ducks while he soared some more, pondered where he was going to eat that night and then made a basket.
Jordan moved with an athleticism that combined power and grace in a way that hadn’t been seen before. Julius Erving? Just as fluid, but he didn’t have that angry explosiveness. Other players had a higher vertical leap than Michael did. But they couldn’t move in the air like he did, and they didn’t seem to jump as high with a ball in their hands. He was controlled ridiculousness in flight.
Early in his career, before his body became thicker, his moves were especially striking — all elbows, knees, tongue and high socks. He grew up in North Carolina, but his game seemed to emanate from every outdoor court in every gritty urban neighborhood in America. People from Brooklyn, where he spent the first 18 months of his life, would like to take some credit, but unless he was crossing over defenders while he was in diapers, it’s hard to believe they played a role. Sorry, Spike Lee.
Everybody wants to claim MJ. Wherever he has been — Wilmington, N.C., Chapel Hill, N.C. or Chicago — people have thought of him as theirs. But here’s the thing about Jordan: The world owns him. He’s not ours, hasn’t been for a long time. Somewhere in those six NBA titles and five MVP awards, the rest of the world moved in on us Chicagoans. He took his talents to Planet Earth.
And now it’s hard to know where he starts and the endorsement deals end. A whole generation of people never saw him play, and it doesn’t matter in the least. He’s as popular as ever. Nike did $1.25 billion a year in sales through Jordan’s brand in 2012. Forbes magazine estimated he made $85 million last year, mostly through endorsements.
Whether it’s ‘‘Space Jam’’ or a Hanes ad, he plays the same role — eyebrows raised, a look of bemusement on his face at the silly, lesser people populating the planet. It’s not exactly method acting, but people eat it up, drink it up and buy it up, no matter what he’s selling.
And there’s no end in sight. What would you buy from a 70-year-old Michael Jordan? Wrong question. What wouldn’t you buy from him?