Sam Smith: Michael Jordan said ‘Republicans buy sneakers, too,’ but jokingly

Michael Jordan
Ken Levine /Allsport

Did Michael Jordan actually say, “Republicans buy sneakers, too”?

The quote is often attributed to him. But the actual origin is unclear.

A version of the quote – with “shoes” rather than “sneakers” – first appeared in “Second Coming,” a 1995 book by Sam Smith, via Laura Wagner of Slate:

Another time, he was approached by U.S. Senate hopeful Harvey Gantt, a black politician who was running against Jesse Helms in North Carolina, Jordan’s home state. Gantt had hoped that Jordan’s name would help him defeat Helms, widely regarded as a virulent racist. But Jordan declined. He wasn’t into politics, he explained, didn’t really know the issues. And, as he later told a friend, “Republicans buy shoes, too.”

The quote stuck with Jordan ever since.

Smith on “The Full 48” podcast:

A year ago even, Michael was still under siege about this, which – as a I told them – was complete bulls—. It was misrepresentation, and it was partially my fault, because I wrote it. And I felt badly over the years.

With Michael, you would sit and talk with him for hours before games. He loved it.

He liked to give and take with the media, teammates, the ribbing back and forth, which you see in some of the documentary. He loved that stuff, and that really got him ready for the game more than going out in the layup line or shooting.

So, we’d be talking. And he’d love to be challenged about stuff.

I’m talking about that race. And I bring it up. I say, “Hey, you’ve got the race in your state. The mayor of Charlotte is running.”

And so I could tell he’s kind of getting tired of this and doesn’t want to engage in this, because he knows in the back of his mind that the league doesn’t want this. “Don’t get us involved in this stuff.”

And the other thing with Michael was why he enjoyed the conversation, because it was like an athletic contest. If you got the last word, you won. And he was always about winning stuff.

And so we’re going on. And he says this at the end. “Hey, Republicans buy sneakers, too.” And it sort of stops me in my tracks. It was funny, and it sort of ends the conversation.

And so I mentioned it in one of my books about it, and I probably mentioned it in the sense of whatever the race was at the time and probably didn’t emphasize enough what a quip it was, really, to who Michael was and his identity.

For years, I’ve been trying to explain, no, it was like a joke. It was a quip.

Smith didn’t explain why he attributed the quote – joke or not – as told to a friend.

Regardless, it’s clear why the quote resonated.

Jordan was apolitical. Jordan was concerned with his mass-marketing appeal.

Maybe Jordan wasn’t as sinisterly calculating as some believe (though he could be callous). But even as a joke, the quote fits a true image of Jordan.