Barack Obama Thinks Michael Jordan Should've 'Pushed Harder' in 1990 Senate Race

Megan ArmstrongSenior Analyst IIMay 4, 2020

Former U.S. President Barack Obama smiles as he attends the
Vincent Thian/Associated Press

"Republicans buy shoes, too," Michael Jordan said during the 1990 Senate race in his native North Carolina between Republican incumbent Jesse Helms and Democrat Harvey Gantt.

Barack Obama wishes Jordan would have more stoutly opposed Helms, as the former United States president disclosed during the fifth episode of The Last Dance on Sunday:

The Undefeated @TheUndefeated

Knowing what Jesse Helms stood for ... you would have wanted to see Michael push harder on that.” —@BarackObama #TheLastDance

Jordan also explained his mindset at the time:

The Undefeated @TheUndefeated

“I never thought of myself as an activist,” Jordan said. “I thought of myself as a basketball player...” “Was that selfish? Probably. But that was my energy.” #TheLastDance

Prior to The Last Dance's debut on April 19, longtime Chicago journalist Sam Smith gave the background story on Jordan's infamous quote for the Bulls' official website:

"Like that time I was blathering on about Jesse Helms and that North Carolina senate race. Jordan knew how much the NBA had been asking players to stay away from this kind of stuff, and the truth is he didn't need to protect his shoe company investment. There were times there I recall him talking about splitting from Nike. They were changing deals on him and he didn't like the negotiating. Actually, he'd worn Converse in college and only went to that first Nike interview because his mother ordered him to. Jordan really was in it for the love of the game.

So I'm making my case about Charlotte mayor Harvey Gantt and even though Jordan knew this wasn't a topic that was best for his league, he still delighted in the last word. Because after all that meant you won.


So he shot me the last word.

"'Republicans,' he said with a smile, 'buy sneakers, too.'"

Helms defeated Gantt in the election to maintain his seat.