By Dan Bernstein–
At the peak of his global celebrity, Michael Jordan’s pitch to potential consumers of his branded products was refreshingly direct.
While other superstar athletes and actors would merely imply that the mortal mobs could attain grandeur through drinks, clothes, shoes, fragrances and snacks, MJ used three words and a catchy refrain to tell us what to do.
Be Like Mike.
We listened, because that’s what we wanted. We drank enough yellow Gatorade to launch an industry of “sports drinks,” enabled a gym-shoe arms race that effectively enslaved south Asia, applied a cologne that made us smell like a sauna-baked catcher’s mitt, and went to McDonald’s for the “McJordan,” which had the culinary foresight to combine beef, cheese, bacon, onions, barbecue sauce and pickles into a single, ghastly package of congealed sodium.
And, there was that one time we almost bit through our tongue while trying the midair, switch-to-the-left-hand layup, and landed on the uneven part where the driveway meets the garage. Ok, I, not we.
It was news yesterday that our opportunities to emulate Jordan can continue further into middle age – ours and his – with the arrival of Michael Jordan’s Steak House later this summer on Michigan Avenue.
It may have been 13 years since he wore a Bulls uniform, but he’s betting that those powerful, childhood connections can still lure enough of us away from shopping to grab the same piece of charred, prime meat being sold at 20 other restaurants within blocks.
This is what it means to emulate him, now. He’s still pretty honest about it.
One of his other places serves gamblers at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut, the same place he notoriously pulled a down-a-million-up-a-million all-nighter at the blackjack tables before his Washington Wizards lost a game to the Knicks in 2001.
Play simultaneous $15,000 hands of cards, eat a big steak, have a few beers and a cigar, perhaps. Hit on a cocktail waitress or two. Be like Mike.
Even his still-popular clothing line is now modeled by the guys actually wearing the gear. Air Jordans and other jumpman-logoed items are sported by Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade and a host of pro athletes across the major sports.
If you really wanted to dress like Jordan does now, you’d make a giant zoot suit out of forest-green velour, in an apparent effort to resemble one of the chorus dancers from “Guys and Dolls,” had they worn oversized, gold-hoop earrings.
Jordan is back in Chicago’s basketball conversation because of Derrick Rose, and a Bulls team embracing realistic thoughts of contending for the NBA title. Notice how much more often Jordan has been mentioned of late, and you can see why the timing might be right for him to glom his brand back onto something on the upswing, even if he does so tangentially.
He is still a big part of Bulls basketball, and Bulls basketball is a hot stock.
(Don’t get me started on the larger, obvious conflicts of interest: he owns and operates the Charlotte Bobcats [!] while hiring players around the league to endorse his merchandise, while he still cashes in on his association with another NBA team.)
In some way, the pathologically-competitive Jordan may still be at it, trying to remind the city of his legend at the same time another MVP ascends. That fire will always burn.
Just last Saturday, in fact, Jordan berated members of UNC’s basketball team for not wearing his shoes. “Next time I see you wearing those Kobe Bryants, I’m gonna take it right off,” he yelled at Tyler Zeller, John Henson, Kendall Marshall and others. “I don’t care if your feet kill you, you’re gonna wear them Jordans.”
He’s a living icon, not content to remove himself from the game.
Imagine the specter of Dale Earnhardt – really the only sports brand comparable in national power and scope, still holding sway over a sport – descending from the heavens to demand that NASCAR fans switch out their car-window flags, plastic coolers and belt buckles for those bearing the white “3” on the black background.
The selling of Jordan is not as simple as it once may have been, but it continues, while another generation of Chicago basketball fans grows up idolizing a humble kid produced by the city itself.
We’ll see how well the fundamental pitch matures.
Be like what Mike was? Be like what he is?
Will our kids need to be told why they’re supposed to want to?
Dan Bernstein has been the co-host of “Boers and Bernstein” since 1999. He joined the station as a reporter/anchor in 1995. The Boers and Bernstein Show airs every weekday from 1PM to 6PM on The Score, 670AM. Read more of Bernstein’s blogs here. Follow him on Twitter @dan_bernstein.
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