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Sam Smith Explained The Story Of Michael Jordan’s Infamous ‘Republicans Buy Sneakers Too’ Quote

Michael Jordan is a mythical figure, both in the sports world and in the greater consciousness around the globe. Most believe the former Chicago Bulls (and Washington Wizards) star is the greatest basketball player of all-time and, because he ruled the NBA in a world before social media, there are many legendary tales about Jordan, both on and off the floor.

One such anecdote is Jordan’s infamous quote of “Republicans buy sneakers, too.” The quote has been attributed to Jordan in many different contexts, especially when discussing his well-known avoidance of political matters. In fact, full investigations have been assigned to the quote’s origin, including a deep dive by Slate’s Laura Wagner in 2016.

Within it, Wagner cites Second Coming, a book written by Sam Smith in 1995 and centering on Jordan, and it references this excerpt as the first use of the now widespread wording, even if “sneakers” wasn’t originally included.

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.”

With that in mind, Smith himself wrote this week about the story behind what he describes as a “misunderstood” quote. To set up the context, he shared that “Jordan loved the media give and take,” saying that Jordan often spurned pre-game warmups in favor of verbal exchanges with the media and the plain fact that Jordan loved to get the last word.

From there, Smith gets to the goods, painting the picture of himself “blathering on about Jesse Helms and that North Carolina senate race” that took place in 1990. Smith made sure to say that “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.” At the same time, Smith was, by his own admission, arguing on behalf of Gantt.

Then, the fireworks happened.

It didn’t matter if it was a game, a bet, the first to get dressed or taped, the first bag down the conveyor belt at the airport which he’d, by the way, arranged with a ten for the baggage handler. Conversation and can-you-top-this was a competitive event to Jordan. There were more skilled players, but no one with that manic, never drained reservoir of competitive energy and desire. It’s why he worked harder, also. Not necessary to be better. But not to lose to anyone at anything.

So he shot me the last word.

“Republicans,” he said with a smile, “buy sneakers, too.”

Smith says he laughed and also had his thoughts “derailed” by the response but, most importantly to the context of the story, he admitted that “it was the final word” from Jordan.

In some ways, this explanation won’t satisfy everyone, even when accounting for the fact that Smith was, well, the person to report the quote in the first place. Smith ended the piece by emphasizing (with an exclamation point and everything) and Jordan’s quip was a joke, and he implores everyone to “stop taking yourselves so seriously.” Whether that, in itself, is a mythical creation after 25 years is up for interpretation but, if nothing else, the original purveyor of the world-famous quote has weighed in.