Michael Jordan is a billionaire NBA owner, sports icon, and pretty much undisputed Greatest of All Time (GOAT). But one of only three guys that scored more NBA points than Jordan — and who won the same number of championships (six) — says that Jordan made a choice off the court that he’s “got to live with.” Six-time NBA MVP Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has lived his life with social consciousness at the forefront, eschewing easy silence to make uncomfortable accusations about the status quo on race and other difficult issues.
Jordan did the opposite, famously avoiding any social statements or controversy that extended beyond Reebok v. Nike. It’s worked out enormously well for Jordan financially. Jordan’s point has always been that he’s a basketball player, not an activist, and that’s his right. Abdul-Jabbar feels that Jordan’s platform was so large that it came with responsibility to use it to fight for equality. Abdul-Jabbar saw Jordan’s refusal to follow in the activist footsteps of athletes like Jim Brown and Muhammad Ali as regrettable. Talking with NPR about Jordan’s perhaps apocryphal quip that even “Republicans buy sneakers.” Abdul-Jabbar said of Jordan, “He took commerce over conscience. It’s unfortunate for him, but he’s got to live with it.”
[Kareem Abdul-Jabbar will always have the best title for a 7-foot athlete’s autobiography, Giant Steps.]