“Republicans buy sneakers, too.” It’s a remark legendary hooper Michael Jeffrey Jordan once uttered (although only in jest, he says) that continues to follow him around. Not that M.J. has ever disappeared from the spotlight, but his legacy has been discussed even more lately, surrounding the recent multipart ESPN documentary “The Last Dance.” This vital source of quarantine entertainment and behind-the-scenes NBA drama also explored Jordan’s apparent reticence regarding political and cultural issues.
Here at IP, however, we’ve had our eye on Jordan for the past few years, suspecting that he might be coming out of that shell. With $2.1 billion to his name, Jordan, 57, remains a highly influential figure who could end up directing a substantial chunk of his wealth toward philanthropy. He once had a charity called the Michael Jordan Foundation, though it shuttered in the 1990s, back when Jordan was still dominating on the court. And for a while, M.J.’s record of public personal giving, at least as far as we can track, was not overwhelming.
In 2016, though, that started to change. He gave a total of $2 million to two organizations working to build trust between law enforcement and the communities in which they work. Since then, he’s followed up with a $5 million gift to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC), and a $7 million donation to launch Novant Health Michael Jordan Family Clinics in disenfranchised Charlotte communities.
Jordan does not seem to have launched another formal family foundation, as yet. But we started wondering if these periodic gifts were a sign of something more on the way. Well, now comes the news that M.J. and Nike’s Jordan Brand plan to give a total of $100 million over the next decade to organizations that work to advance racial equality, social justice and access to education. Of the total amount pledged, Jordan will donate $50 million personally, and Jordan Brand will give the other half.
This donation is his largest publicly disclosed gift, and prior to the announcement, basketball’s greatest player also made a statement, saying, “I am deeply saddened, truly pained, and plain angry… I see and feel everyone’s pain, outrage and frustration. I stand with those who are calling out the ingrained racism and violence toward people of color in our country. We have had enough.”
Jordan has not yet determined which organizations will receive portions of the donation, according to a spokesperson for the billionaire. In past related work, Jordan directed funds to the Institute for Community-Police Relations and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF). His local community in Charlotte, North Carolina, is one region that may receive support, judging from past gifts. His adopted city of Chicago is another location to look out for.
While Jordan’s past reluctance to enter the political and social arena is notable, it’s also important not to attach too much meaning to his decision to hold back on giving. It’s true that this unique moment in history is drawing out a lot of donors and foundations to engage in new ways, and it sounds as if Jordan has been profoundly affected. But keep in mind, many individual donors we track don’t start to ramp up their giving until they enter their 50s and 60s, when they’re no longer on the rise in their careers and are able to commit bandwidth to other passions and pursuits.
For a guy like M.J., who’s been a fixture in society for decades, that might be hard to remember. Only pushing 60, he’s got plenty of time for a third act of giving and engaging with important causes. And with this significant commitment, it’s safe to say Jordan the philanthropist has arrived in earnest and is likely to give even more in the coming years.