In this week's Sports Illustrated, Jack McCallum is the latest media figure to quote Michael Jordan as saying that he didn't endorse Harvey Gantt's 1990 challenge to North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms because "Republicans buy sneakers, too." I thought I had remembered the accuracy of that quote being challenged, so I tried to trace it to its source in Nexis, but I failed. A professor is quoted using it in a 1996 Richmond Times Dispatch article about Jordan; Jason Zengerle attributes it to Jordan in a 1997 American Prospect article; and then it doesn't pop up again until the release of David Halberstam's Playing for Keeps in 1999. In the book, Halberstam does not quote Jordan, writing, "Jordan did not take a stand, pointing out that Republicans buy sneakers too." A careful journalist like Halberstam would not use Jordan's exact words and portray them as a paraphrase, which suggests that the phrase was later taken out of context and put into quotation marks. So does anyone know where the quote comes from? Is it accurate?
Update 11/12: Zengerle emailed me to point out that he now shares my concern about the quote, which he recently questioned in a post on TNR's excellent new blog The Plank:
I've always had my doubts about that "Republicans buy shoes, too" quote. The fact that it's so perfect and that it's secondhand--a "friend" of Jordan's told Sam Smith [the author of the Jordan biography Second Coming] that Jordan said it--makes me wonder whether it's a real quote. I'm not saying Smith made it up, just that maybe the person who told it to him did, or, at the very least, embellished it a bit.