Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Local Boy Does Good: No Place Like Home

It's time to Break It Down!

Michael Jeffrey Jordan, A.K.A. MJ, A.K.A. #23, A.K.A. principal owner and Chairman of the Charlotte Hornets, grew up in Wilmington, North Carolina, attended the University of North Carolina, and went on to become known and beloved by the masses as the NBA’s G.O.A.T. (A.K.A. Greatest Of All Time). Yesterday Jordan donated $2 million dollars to Hurricane Florence relief efforts in North Carolina. 

Hurricane Florence invaded North and South Carolina last week, and to date is responsible for at least 34 deaths, 26 in North Carolina. Wilmington was especially hard hit. Floodwaters cut the city off from the rest of the state, making the peninsula an island. The community was hit with 26.58 inches of rain. The resulting encroaching waters cut off roadways into and out of Wilmington, isolating the city, preventing people who didn’t evacuate before the storm from doing so afterward, and making it impossible for those who did to return immediately after the storm to check on their family members and property.

This is not Jordan’s first philanthropic rodeo. However, his route to this point was not a straight line. In the 90’s former Charlotte Mayor Harvey Gantt, the city’s first African American Mayor, challenged Jesse Helms for his NC Senate seat. Twice. In 1990, and again in 1996. Helms won both contests. In the 1990 race, Senator Helms used his infamous anti-Gantt, anti–affirmative action “White Hands” ad.

Despite the Senator’s unorthodox, and racially insensitive ad, and a number of pleas from prominent athletes, including Arthur Ashe, for Jordan to endorse Mr. Gantt, Jordan declined to do so. To add insult to injury, it was reported by a number of sources that Jordan, in declining to endorse Gantt, explained his decision by commenting to a friend, that, “Republicans buy shoes too.” For the record, Jordan has always denied that. But, as urban legends often do, the narrative developed a life of its own, and persists in many circles, even to this day.

While Jordan went on to win multiple NBA Titles, six in all, as well as a matching six NBA Finals MVP’s to complement his Rings, and would ultimately leverage his Brand into NBA Team Owner, and Billionaire status, it is both inaccurate and unfair to characterize MJ as just a soulless capitalist, entirely unconcerned or connected to politics. 

Speaking in his own defense, Jordan had this to say about his not-so-well-known largesse:

“If I’m guilty of anything it’s of not seeking publicity or keeping a record of everybody I’ve ever helped. We still have racism. But sometimes the more publicity you give it helps increase racism rather than decrease it.”

To point out a few instances of Jordan contributions that may not have been particularly well know, see below:

According to OpenSecrets.org, Jordan donated $2000 to Gantt’s 1996 Senate campaign. (Estee Portnoy, Jordan’s spokeswoman, confirmed the donation to Slate. Despite the donation, Gantt lost that race, too.) Also in 2004, he contributed to Barack Obama’s senatorial campaign, leading Obama to joke that he “wasn’t sure whether he should cash [the check] or frame it.” Moreover, in 2012, he participated in a fundraiser for President Obama and “co-headlined” a $20,000 a plate dinner following it, ESPN reported. OpenSecrets.org also lists donations from a Michael J. Jordan with the occupation “Charlotte Bobcats Owner” to various groups associated with the Democratic Party.


In a statement published on ESPN’s the Undefeated, on July 28, 2016, under the headline “Michael Jordan: ‘I Can No Longer Stay Silent,’ ” he wrote:

As a proud American, a father who lost his own dad in a senseless act of violence, and a black man, I have been deeply troubled by the deaths of African-Americans at the hands of law enforcement and angered by the cowardly and hateful targeting and killing of police officers.”

Later in the statement, Jordan announced he would donate $1 million each to the Institute for Community-Police Relations and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. He did not elaborate on why he chose this particular moment to speak out and donate money, and he was very careful to avoid offending anyone in his statement:

“Over the past three decades I have seen up close the dedication of the law enforcement officers who protect me and my family. I have the greatest respect for their sacrifice and service. I also recognize that for many people of color their experiences with law enforcement have been different than mine. I have decided to speak out in the hope that we can come together as Americans, and through peaceful dialogue and education, achieve constructive change.”

So, to be clear about the matter, while Mike has been reluctant to wade into things political, his reticence may have been at least somewhat overstated. Nevertheless, his “Undefeated” commentary and donation is different. It wasn’t just a campaign donation: Jordan decided to use his voice and his platform to weigh in publicly on a pressing issue of race and social justice. He’s still measured, and he’s still trying to give equal consideration to all sides. But there is no denying this was a long way from “Republicans buy shoes/sneakers, too,” whether he ever said those words or not.

Returning to yesterday, Jordan issued a statement accompanying his donation to assist the recovery effort from Hurricane Florence. In it, he said: 

“It’s truly devastating to see the damage that Hurricane Florence is doing to my beloved home state of North Carolina and to the surrounding areas. The recovery effort will be massive, and it will take a long time to repair the damage and for the families to get back on their feet. Together with the NBA, we have launched a platform to aid those most impacted. Please join me, the Hornets organization, the NBA, and donate to one of the local organizations assisting in the relief and recovery efforts. To all those affected, stay safe and know that we’re here to help.”

The 55-year-old Jordan still has relatives who live in coastal North Carolina, including a nephew who attends UNC-Wilmington, which remains closed due to storm damage. In a telephone interview with the Associated Press, Jordan said:

"It just hits home. I know all of those places: Wilmington, Fayetteville, Myrtle Beach, New Bern, and Wallace, which is where my father is from. So quite naturally it hits home, and I felt like I had to act in a sense that this is my home."


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