When Metro Transit Authority police officers were looking for a surveillance spot to film #BlackLivesMatter protesters in Grand Central Terminal, they chose a particularly juicy location: the balcony level overlook provided by the high-end restaurant chain known as Michael Jordan’s Steakhouse. Oh me, oh my, where to begin…
This past season in the NBA has seen an unprecedented level of political expression by players, prodded and provoked to speak out and align themselves with the #BlackLivesMatter movement against police violence. The reason players from LeBron and Derrick Rose to David West and Nik Stauskas went public with their solidarity was because a mass in the streets—and on social media—was both loud and powerful enough to enter their rarified air.
Michael Jordan, the greatest NBA player to ever breathe and current owner of the Charlotte Hornets, decided, unsurprisingly, to not be a part of this. Jordan has long been a symbol of the apolitical star athlete more concerned about his branding and commercial appeal than social statements. In the wake of the on-court protests, many observers have noted that the Jordan Way was starting to appear to be as passé as butt-hugging shorts, with this generation of social media–savvy, socially aware jocks creating a new template. That’s why the use of a restaurant that bears the Jordan name to monitor protesters is more than a bad look. It projects the idea that His Airness is not only disinterested when it comes to #BlackLivesMatter, he’s actually on the other side. One e-mail I received about this, from the group Shut It Down NYC, reads in part, “With the light cast on Michael Jordan’s implicit support of state intimidation of Black Lives Matter protesters, we hope that he will stop his cooperation. Otherwise we will just stop buying his products.”
There is also a change.org petition up asking Jordan to “stop cooperating with surveillance of Black Lives Matter protesters.”
Is this a fair assessment of the situation, or more a case of “If the Jordan Dub Zero fits”? My Nation colleague James Kelly and I have been trying… and trying to find out whether the use by police of the Grand Central restaurant that bears his name was something that would require Jordan’s approval. In other words, how complicit is Jordan in this process? What we learned is in many ways almost as disturbing than the notion that Michael Jordan wants his steakhouses to be a strategic masthead against the #BlackLivesMatter movement.