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Do British sports fans get Michael Jordan and will The Last Dance change that?

By Lona Price Jones (connect via Linkedin)

“I don’t think we in the UK ‘get’ Michael Jordan. I don’t think we really understand his impact.” This is what host Richard Gillis said in the Brand Tiger Special instalment of the Unofficial Partner podcast with guests Tim Crow and Eoin Connolly, who rebutted with an argument of his own.

But the comment struck a chord, and even more so since the highly anticipated Chicago Bulls documentary, ‘The Last Dance’ has hit our screens on Netflix. The documentary follows Jordan, who led the Bulls, (with coach Phil Jackson) to six NBA titles in the ’90s. And the more I watch it, the more I agree with Richard's comment.

The world of the NBA and the magnitude of Michael Jordan’s sporting success isn’t entirely understood by the UK public. Basketball is not a mainstream sport in the UK, therefore, receives a lack of coverage from UK media outlets. Predominantly a North American sport - it won’t necessarily evoke the same emotions or interest.

However, people do buy into Michael Jordan himself. Despite not buying into basketball. Tinker Hatfield, the designer for most Air Jordan shoes, described Michael Jordan in 1988.

Michael Jordan is:

Educated + Animated

Sporty + Tasteful

Class + Style

Fun + Flash

Successful + Urban

Everyone can identify a part of themselves in Jordan.

The work completed by Nike and his agent David Falk meant Michael would become a cultural icon - not just a sports icon. Therefore, people don’t necessarily have to know what he did exactly to buy into the Jordan brand.

Jordan's brand grew through cross-cultural collaborations - ‘Mars and Mike’ saw Spike Lee (Mars) and Jordan come together for commercials in the late 80s'. Spike Lee, appealed to the urban and fun realms with his films. The ads never aired in the UK, highlighting why the UK may not entirely ‘get’ the cultural significance of the brand.

Jordan’s largest cross-culture collaboration began in the 1992 Super Bowl Ad ‘Hare Jordan’ (again unavailable in the UK) with Bugs Bunny - Jordan living truly up to the description of ‘animated’. The ad led to the development of the 1996 international blockbuster Space Jam. A film that has sold over $1 billion in merchandise.

To the youth in the UK, as Eoin pointed out, Jordan was known for his success and athleticism. His style, on and off-court did not go unnoticed. Air Jordan pairs dropped nearly every season (which at the time was a new concept); Air Jordans were to these kids what the iPhone is for later generations. You had to have the latest drop, you wanted to be ‘Like Mike’.

Jordan’s success and the brand's success has relied on his playing career, a fact acknowledged by Jordan in The Last Dance. The opportunities that came his way would have not been possible if he had not dedicated his life to the game.

Without a doubt, the documentary gives UK consumers and sports fans an insight into the world of Michael Jordan and the NBA. It allows the audience to view perhaps an unseen side of the Space Jam star. Lastly, I hope it sheds light on the differences between America's sports culture and ours.

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