If Michael Jordan is going to count rings to quantify his superiority over LeBron James, then James is going to point out the divide in their social attention.
In the second episode of the James-executive-produced “Shut Up and Dribble” series that will air at 9 p.m. Pacific on Saturday on Showtime, Jordan’s past of avoiding matters that deeply affected his fellow black men is addressed.
Jordan did not participate in the documentary titled by conservative talk-show host Laura Ingraham’s dismissal of James’ attention to the toll of gun violence in urban communities, depriving the project of his NBA footage and an explanation about why he remained silent on the issues of his day despite his prominence.
“Shut Up and Dribble” notes how North Carolina college legend Jordan declined to get involved in the tense 1990 Senate race between ultra-conservative Republican Jesse Helms and black challenger Harvey Gantt.
Chicago reporter Sam Smith detailed how Jordan told him, “Republicans buy shoes, too,” in reference to Jordan’s popular Nike line of shoes, even as Helms launched a controversial ad criticizing minority hiring practices. Helms won the election with 1,089,012 votes to Gantt’s 981,573.
“It’s not his obligation to be Muhammad Ali,” fellow Tar Heel and NBA analyst Kenny Smith said during the episode.
Jordan, with his six NBA rings to James’ three, certainly wasn’t that.
Former Chicago Bulls teammate Craig Hodges adds he suggested that the Bulls and Lakers perform a boycott of the 1991 NBA Finals following the Rodney King beating in Los Angeles, but found the suggestion shot down by Jordan and Magic Johnson as “too extreme.”
The episode, screened in TriBeCa and hosted by James’ friend, Paul Rivera, also revisits the 1995 Million Man March of black men on Washington, D.C., and the case of former NBA player Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, who, before former NFL player Colin Kaepernick, refused for several games to stand for the national anthem while playing for the Denver Nuggets in the 1990s.
Abdul-Rauf, a Muslim, also felt blackballed by his league for taking a political stand.
“Shut Up and Dribble” director Gotham Chopra said in a statement read by Rivera:
“It’s my hope that we will contribute to the dialogue that we sorely need in this country about the importance of civic engagement, cultural inclusion, why sports matter [beyond wins and losses], and persistence in the face of struggle.”
James said last week he was proud of the work.
“To have so many people want to participate in it, and give their experiences, their voice, what they went through at their time, and to be able to bring it all together, it’s pretty cool,” James said.