His Airness, Number 23, Michael Jeffrey Jordan (can you tell I'm a fan?) reinvented himself several times in his long and storied hoops career. First he was an athletic specimen, who outjumped and outran pretty much everyone else on the court. In his later years, when his athleticism waned, he developed a bonafide mid-range game, complete with a fadeaway. (I won't mention his twilight stint with the Wizards, or his crack at baseball.) Nowadays, the 53-year old now owns the Charlotte Hornets, the first former player to hold a majority interest in a team.
Oh, and he's insanely rich. What's he doing with all that spare cash?
Well, a few weeks ago, I wrote about MJ's rather suprising $2 million civil rights gift to the Institute for Community-Police Relations and theNAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF). The gift caught many off guard for several reasons. First, historically, Jordan hasn't been particularly vocal about social issues, leading some to believe that he privileges his brand over getting involved in hotbutton topics. As well, MJ's philanthropy through the years has been tough to track.
As the richest athlete in the world, and one of the richest African-Americans, MJ's wealth is a big deal. Jordan is in his 50s now, settled into his new career as an NBA executive (heck, the Hornets are kind of good now), so perhaps he has more bandwith to focus on philanthropy. Then again, maybe his $2 million was just an exceptional case.
Now comes news that Jordan recently donated $5 million to Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC). The museum is set to open next month, and seeks to "understand American history through the lens of the African American experience."
The museum's founding director Lonnie Bunch embodies part of that experience. His grandfather was a former sharecropper who went to night school and became one of the first black dentists in Newark. The son of educators, Bunch himself is a prominent black scholar who's been curator of the California African American Museum and the National Museum of American History.
NMAAHC is more than a decade in the making as Bunch and others have been doing everything from raising funds and designing floors and wings, to securing Harriet Tubman's hymnal. President Obama spoke a few years ago when NMAAHC broke ground and noted that the idea for a museum dedicated to African-Americans was first put forth by black Civil War veterans, and later taken up by the Civil Rights generation.
We've written before about "patriotic philanthropist" and billionaireDavid Rubenstein of Carlyle Group, who donated $10 million to the museum earlier this year. Jordan's gift, meanwhile, pushes private donations to the museum to $278 million.
The Bulls legend also gifted a jersey that he wore during the 1996 NBA Finals to the museum’s permanent collection. In recognition of his philanthropy, the museum will name a section of its sports gallery the Michael Jordan Hall. The gallery will feature artifacts associated with pioneering athletes, including tennis legend Althea Gibson and track-and-field legend Jesse Owens. Jordan is also among those spotlighted.
Of the gift, Jordan says, “I am grateful for the opportunity to support this museum... I also am indebted to the historic contributions of community leaders and athletes such as Jesse Owens, whose talent, commitment and perseverance broke racial barriers and laid the groundwork for the successful careers of so many African Americans in athletics and beyond.”
It's tough to say where Jordan's philanthropy will go from there. Perhaps a formal foundation will take shape in the coming years. In other sectors, like say on Wall Street, many donors really don't start moving towards significant philanthropy until they're in their 50s and 60s. It just so happens that athletes like Jordan have been in the spotlight for many years. Whatever happens, though, now that he's stepped into the arena, Jordan is one to watch for more philanthropic shots going forward.