Michael Jordan: B-Ball Buppie

Alone with the tube in a hotel room in Antigua the night the NBA season starts. Most of the Black Entertainment & Sports Lawyers Association conference attendees are on a Jolly Roger pseudo-­pirate ship circling the island, savoring seafood, dancing with the CPAs from L.A., or networking with the handsome sports agent from Denver under a luminous starlit sky. Sprawled across my bed is a complete NBA roster ripped out of USA Today, Ira Berkow’s Times column on why Earl Monroe should be in the Hall of Fame (yes! imprison Earl the Pearl!) and a copy of Basketball Digest that cost $7.50 down here. On a Friday night in the most beautiful place I’ve ever been, I sit in my room watching a scratchy feed from a Chicago superstation as the undermanned Cleveland Cavaliers visit the new and improved Windy City Jordanaires. In between ads for the Illinois State Lottery’s free Michael Jordan calendar, a Jordan Wheaties spot with a cameo by Laker James Worthy, and closeups of Jordan’s num­ber 23 sprinkled liberally throughout the station bump­ers, Air Nike starts the season by scoring 54 points in a five-point overtime win. He’s merely effective the first three quarters but, as he later told AP, the “last 10 minutes were the type of game you’d like to play for 48 minutes.” Candy-sweet bank shots, 15-foot J’s in Ron Harper’s face, and a couple of right-hand, string-bend­ing, tongue-dangling dunks tie the game in the fourth quarter and win it in overtime. God must be watching too: right after the game there’s an intense 20-minute tropical shower.

Next morning clouds obscured the sun and brief squalls of rain sent sunbathers scurrying in and out of tanktops. Inside a hotel conference room the seminar on marketing sports and entertainment figures to advertis­ers was dominated by Bill Strickland, a husky, light-brown man wearing glasses, salt-and-pepper beard, and a short Afro. Strickland, the most prominent African­-American rep at Pro-Serve, which handles 160 athletes, among them Jordan, Worthy, Patrick Ewing, Arthur Ashe, and Jimmy Connors, related the saga of Jordan’s journey from ballplayer to corporate icon. “Michael Jor­dan makes five times his on-court fee in endorsements,” he said. The collected lawyers, accountants, and execu­tives gasped. The brother gets $3 million a year from the Bulls.

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Yet when he was drafted by the Bulls in 1984, after beating Georgetown with a last-second shot in the 1982 NCAA title game as a freshman, being named Sporting News college player of 1983 and ’84, leading the Olympic team to gold in 1984, only two companies approached him for endorsements: Nike and Converse (which, for the record, is the sneaker he wore in college). Nike wasn’t looking to make Jordan a trademark. The initial offer was your typical jock-athletic shoe hookup — some cash, some posters, and an unlimited supply of footwear.

But Pro-Serve pushed hard on what it believed was a unique product. Playing the game spectacularly yet somehow unselfishly and the media with calm Southern charm, Jordan was positioned as basketball’s Arthur Ashe, bridging a deep class schism. And within a year the agency had gotten Nike to move on its idea of a “signature shoe” called Air Jordan. This revolutionized the signature endorsement game, bringing Nike approxi­mately $130 million Air Jordan’s first year, opening the door for the Ewing collection (“In the ad, when Patrick turns to face the camera, he smiled to soften his ‘Hoya Paranoia’ image,” reports Strickland) and the Mugsy Mobile, a special-edition Ford Fiesta sold only in the D.C.-Baltimore home turf of 5-3 NBA guard Tyrone “Mugsy” Bogues.

Jordan became a Coca-Cola spokesman, according to Neva Richardson of Chicago’s Burrel Advertising, the nation’s largest black-owned agency, because the company needed help. In the wake of the “new Coke” fiasco, the soda makers hooked onto Max Headroom as their new commercial symbol. Problem was, black folks — who compose a huge part of Coke’s market — hated the com­puter-generated talking head. Here came Mr. Jordan. “Michael Jordan legitimized Max with a black audience” by interacting with him in a spot, according to Richardson.

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But Jordan’s ultimate challenge was getting hooked with Mickey Dee’s. “It took Pro-Serve a year to turn McDonald’s around,” Strickland says. Three times Ronald McDonald said “No” to Jordan. The major impedi­ments were (a) Jordan played a team sport in which individual identification isn’t as high as in boxing, ten­nis, or golf, and (b) Jordan was black. (“Absurd,” a McDonald’s spokesperson countered.) But Pro-Serve kept up the pressure, and as Jordan became an icon, McDonald’s bought in. Meanwhile, black Super Bowl most valuable players Doug Williams and Jerry Rice both complained of getting few if any national endorse­ment offers, whereas Boomer Esiason has fronted sever­al national campaigns since the Bengals lost last Janu­ary. In a Wall Street Journal piece on the audience­-recognition ratings of top athletes, seven of the top 10 were African Americans, but only one of the seven, Jordan, is really clocking dollars. Despite the number of black faces sprinkled in current ads and the success of black athletes overall, the male African-American sports star is still viewed as a potential negative. McDonald’s was leery of touching Ewing because he had a child out of wedlock. (When informed of this account, the same McDonald’s spokesperson said, “I’ve never heard of it.”) Yannick Noah, a charismatic tennis star with endorse­ments throughout Europe, Africa, and Japan, was passed over by American ad agencies because “his dreads didn’t sell in Manhattan,” said Strickland.

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After the seminar, down by the beach, I talked with Barry Mayo, the general manager and part-owner of Chicago’s WVAZ, who in the radio world is as much a star as Jordan is in his. Listening to him analyze for­mats is like watching Air Jordan probe a defense. For some reason our talk reminded me of last summer, when Jordan appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated play­ing golf. Then it hit me. With his well-honed talents, shrewd advisers, and carefully cultivated smile Jordan bad, in C. L. R. James’s famous sports phrase, gone beyond the boundary. On-court he is, in his time, the equal of the Big O, Russell, Wilt, the Pearl, and Dr. J, all prime exponents of the improvisational impulse I like to call the Black Athletic Aesthetic. Off-court, though, he represents more than that to the collected black professionals of BESLA.

Jordan’s blend of middle-class dignity with Julius Erving’s high-intensity elegance, both funneled through a hi-tech marketing campaign, makes him the locker-­room peer of Mayo and Strickland. More than any other contemporary African-American athlete, his ability to thrive in the pressure cooker of corporate America (his off-season consists primarily of appearances at various company conferences, charitable events, and shooting commercial spots), while never making any embarrass­ing “I’m not black, I’m universal” comments or selling his soul rather than just his visage, makes him a role model. Professional black women, who tend to find athletes sexy but shallow, are attracted by his serious­ness (that Jordan married the mother of his son only made him larger in their eyes). His success embodies the equation all of us at Antigua are seeking: success, with maybe a bit of compromise, but without sellout. Spend­ing the night watching Jordan work wasn’t simply bas­ketball junkiedom, but paying respects to a peer. Mi­chael Jordan —commodity, pop star, all-African­-American guy — is the first true buppie b-ball star. And he did it all without a nose job. ■


You Want a Living Wage With That? Fast Food Workers of N.Y.C. Prep for Another Strike

In Prospect Park on Wednesday, during a demonstration scheduled to coincide with the last time the minimum wage was raised–four years ago–New York City’s fast food workers authorized another citywide strike.

The strike will be their third since November, when fast food workers from Domino’s, McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Taco Bell and other chains organized a massive walkout.

The New York Daily News whines melodramatically that the strikes leave “the hungry helpless,” but Fast Food Forward, the group organizing the protests, says the demonstrations have led to a series of workplace victories, including raises, more hours–“and most recently, a repaired air conditioner on the hottest day of the year.” (It’s the little things, right?)

That day was the day a McDonald’s worker collapsed after serving for hours in the heat.

Striking New York City workers will be joined by fast food workers across the country–including Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis, Milwaukee, and other cities–who are organizing their own walkouts to start on Monday.

Employees in Brooklyn will be walking off the job even earlier. The Daily News reports that workers from McDonald’s, Papa John’s Pizza, and Domino’s in Brooklyn will start striking Friday.

What do they want? It’s not that complicated, really: a $15-an-hour wage and union recognition. Today, minimum wage is $7.25 an hour.

Even McDonald’s admits that the salary it pays its own workers is totally unlivable. Earlier this month, the company released a helpful budgeting booklet, “Practical Money Skills.”

McDonald’s advice? Get a second job. Oh, and also: Live in a fantasy world where health insurance costs $20 a month.

As if the pay weren’t already bad enough, advocates say McDonald’s is now paying workers with Visa cards instead of paper paychecks or direct deposit. The card, according to Low Pay Is Not OK, charges $1.25 to make withdrawals, $2 to transfer money to a bank and–get this–$5 for not spending any money at all.

Our practical advice for McDonald’s and other fast food chains? Keep your employees happy–because bad things happen when you don’t.


TED Conference Hosts Best Coffee Pop-Up in the World and More Morning Links

The coffee set-up at this year’s TED conference includes eight roasters and 38 baristas, and the coffee geeks at Sprudge say it might well be “the best multi-roaster pop-up in the world.” The conference kicked off yesterday in Long Beach with a day of presentations from TED fellows (including one by Eddie Huang). [Sprudge]

Admit it, you’re wondering what McDonald’s McFish Bites taste like! General consensus: They’re awful. [NPR]

Remember that Times story about chef Jesse Schenker of New York’s Recette losing 55 pounds? Now the Wall Street Journal reports on Atlanta-based chef and restaurateur Richard Blais, who apparently went from 230 pounds down to 170. It involved “new eating habits, coupled with a love of running and a woman.” [WSJ]

Speaking of weight loss, this giant isopod that lives in Japan’s Toba Aquarium hasn’t eaten anything since 2009. That’s 1,500 sad days since his last mackerel. Takaya Moritaki, whose job it is to feed the aquarium’s crustaceans, says the big scavenger nicknamed No. 1 is only pretending to eat his food. [Japan Times]

As the horse-meat phenomenon continues to unfold in new and surprising ways (we’re looking at you, Ikea and Nestlé) BBC dedicates a whole news page to the scandal. [BBC]

If you missed it this past weekend, Michael Moss’s investigative report on the way processed foods are carefully refined by scientists to addict us to their flavors and textures is a must-read. The essay is adapted from Moss’s new book, Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us. [NYTimes]



Burger King Says No To Horsemeat; McDonald’s Says Yes To Sustainable Fish

It’s been quite a week for fast food companies around the world. After finding traces of horse and pig DNA in meat last week, British grocery chain Tesco recalled all its meat products made from a questionable producers. Now, Burger King has dropped Silvercrest Foods, one of its main meat suppliers in the U.K. and Ireland, for selling meat of the same kind. The restaurant chain issued a statement that there was “no evidence to suggest any of the product supplied to Burger King was affected” but the AP reported Silvercrest shut down its production line and recalled 10 million burgers from supermarkets in Britain and Ireland.

McDonald’s too is concerned with what they’re selling these days. According to the Chicago Tribune, McDonald’s will now only sell “sustainable fish” in their Filet-o-Fish and fish McBites, which will launch in February. From now on, representatives say the Golden Arches will only sell sustainable wild-caught Alaskan pollock. This comes just days after the Australian branch of the chain announced a new app to track where your McD’s ingredients come from. Could concern for sourcing and sustainability be the future of fast food?


McDonald’s Australia Has App to Show Diners Where Food Comes From

It’s no secret that McNuggets only slightly resemble chicken (pink slime, anyone?). McDonald’s down under launched an app that will allow customers to see where each ingredient of their meal came from. TrackMyMacca — Macca is apparently what Aussies call the fast food chain — will pinpoint which farm the meat came from, which bakery the bread came from, and the origins of just about every food item on their menu.

The International Business Times explained that the app will scan the image of your McMuffin or Big Mac and will use GPS and McDonald’s free wi-fi to access the McDonalds’ supply chain.

Apparently it will even tell you if your burger’s made from horse meat. How comforting. Maybe this app will come to America, but until then, we can only assume the worst.


Where To Satisfy Your Holiday Flavor Cravings: IHOP, Starbucks, And More

Starbucks isn’t the only chain that rolls out holiday flavors as soon as temperatures drop. Find all your pumpkin/gingerbread/cinnamon/Christmas cookie-flavored morsels before winter ends.

Holiday Hotcakes from IHOP: Forget blueberry or chocolate chip. IHOP serves pumpkin, carrot cake, and New York cheesecake pancakes during the holiday months.

Holiday Flavored Pringles: The never-fun-stopping pop-em chips now come in Cinnamon and Sugar, White Chocolate Peppermint, and Pumpkin Pie Spice. Make some crunchy duck lips with these guys.

Gingerbread Pinkberry: The frozen yogurt chain spices up their small menu with a gingerbread flavor. Salted caramel is old news for the Los Angeles-based company.

Peppermint Bark Tasti D-Lite: If you’re on team Tasti instead of Team Pinkberry, head on over to the other fro-yo chain for their holiday-themed Peppermint Bark flavor. It’s only 80 calories per four ounce serving!

Egg Nog Shake and Holiday Mint McFlurry at McDonald’s: The McRib isn’t the only thing on McDonald’s holiday menu this year. Egg Nog milkshakes and the Holiday Mint McFlurry (not to be confused with the St. Patrick’s Day-themed Shamrock Shake) were added to the list this year.

Turkey Ice Cream Cake from Baskin-Robbins: We’re cheating here since the cake doesn’t really taste like turkey (this is better for everyone) but there’s no way you can leave a turkey-shaped ice cream cake off this list. The cake is priced at $32.99 but you can also buy two ice cream turkey legs for $7.89.

Red Velvet Holiday Chocolate Milk from Target: About to please all children across America.

Jones Sodas: This soda company goes all out for the holidays. Try these flavors: gingerbread, pear tree, candy cane, and sugar plum. It’s like all 12 days of Christmas rolled into four sparkling sodas.


The Gay Bar, McDonald’s, Taco Bell, the Gates of Hell, etc: These Are Electric Six’s Places of Interest

Tonight, fun-loving party rockers Electric Six are bringing their unique brand of unrelenting dance-floors thrashers to Mercury Lounge for what’s sure to be the most unstable good time in Manhattan this evening. Next year marks a full decade since the group smashed into our collective conscious with their breakthrough Fire album, and they’ve been making us rock out everywhere since.

While their live tours have limited their performances to the stages at clubs and festivals, their music has taken listeners through some of the most intriguing nooks and crannies that rock’s ever seen. We at the Sound of the City decided to take a look back at some of the most memorable of Electric Six’s Places of Interest

“Danger! High Voltage” 2003
Places visited:
-The Disco
-Taco Bell
-The Gates of Hell
It’s rare that a piece of music steals the scene in a movie, but that’s exactly what happened when Electric Six’s “Danger! High Voltage” found itself on the soundtrack to Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle. While critics at the time fiercely debated whether or not the song featured an uncredited Jack White cameo, listeners were far more interested in a song that finally set fires to discos, the gates of Hell AND Taco Bell.

“Gay Bar” 2003
Places Visited: -A Gay Bar
While “Danger! High Voltage” was burning up the big screen coast-to-coast, the internet was set ablaze with the group’s viral hit “Gay Bar.” The catchiness and absurdity of the song kept new listeners hooked after witnessing the countless visual interpretation that left a pre-YouTube world wide web in a tizzy, with our favorite being the one that involved cats and actual bars of “Gay.”

“There’s Something Very Wrong With Us So Let’s Go Out Tonight” 2006
Places visited:
– Detroit
– Tokyo
– A Black Blockbuster Video
– Atlanta
– Estonia
– Yoshinoya
A few albums later, while many of their contemporaries decided to get serious and attempt to “mature,” Electric Six were far more interested in keeping the party going. They (and we) were all the better for it and they continued to crank out infectious party anthems, including “There’s Something Very Wrong With Us So Let’s Go Out Tonight.” The song’s both a call-to-arms and salute to their fanbase, including the drunk ones in Japanese fast food chain Yoshinoya.

“Down at McDonnelzzz” 2007
Places visited: – McDonald’s
While the name was presumably changed to avoid any sort of copyright infringement, there’s no mistaking where the party of “Down at McDonnelzzz” takes place. Picking up where Wesley Willis’ “Rock and Roll McDonald’s” left off, “Down at McDonnelzzz” threw such a shindig at Mickey-D’s that it took a full five years before anyone else even attempted to rock there, with that torch eventually being picked up by Buckwheat Groats.

“Free Samples” 2011
Places visited:
– North of England
– Way Down South

Most recently, Electric Six showed us where all the “Free Samples” are being handed out, from “North of England” to “Way Down South.” Off their latest outing, Heartbeats and Brainwaves, the unwavering cool electronic staccato thump coupled with the wailing vocals make for sarcastic fun that fits everyone’s budget perfectly, no matter where they are.


McDonald’s Unwrapped: Getting Exquisite With Big Mac Ingredients

How fancy can you get with McDonald’s? During a cook-off at San Francisco’s California Culinary Academy, chefs used McDonald’s ingredients to create a three-course meal.

The charity gala, called McDonald’s Unwrapped, was organized to raise awareness regarding McDonald’s ingredients.

According to the Huffington Post, dishes included Big Mac Streusel with Southern Onion Soup and Parmesan Puddin’, bacon-wrapped mini-meat-loaf in tangy Coca-Cola sauce, and crustless fish fillets with baby greens, mushroom fricassee, spunky poblano pepper jelly, Canadian-bacon redeye gravy, and leaf-lettuce purée.

With the exception of the seasonings, all the creations had to have ingredients found at McDonald’s.


Homophobic Fatso Sought in West Village McDonald’s Slicing

Cops are looking for a homophobic fatso who slashed a gay guy with a razor blade at a West Village McDonald’s earlier this week. But that was only after making homophobic comments to the man.

The NYPD released photos of the 350-plus-pound man this morning. He’s huge.

According to authorities, about 7 p.m. Wednesday, the plus-sized suspect and the victim got into an argument at a McDonald’s on West 3rd Street that’s notorious for violent brawls. The suspect made an anti-gay slur before getting into a scuffle. During the fight, the suspect slashed the man on the face, arm, back and neck with a razor blade. He then fled — slowly, presumably.


The victim was taken to Bellevue Hospital, where he received stitches.

The scene of the crime has been the scene of several crimes as of late — on St. Patrick’s Day, a group of drunks brawled with another group of drunks. The fight was videotaped and posted on YouTube.

Prior to the St. Patrick’s Day brawl, a manslaughter parolee beat two
women with a metal rod at the same McDonald’s. He was cleared of any charges
after a Grand Jury determined he acted in self-defense.

Anyone with information about the fatso pictured above is asked to call police.


McRib Surfacing Again in December?

According to Advertising Age, the McRib is scheduled for another comeback in December.

According to a memo obtained by Ad Age from McDonald’s Operators National Advertising Fund, the chain’s national-franchise council, the McRib marketing window was originally scheduled for Oct. 22 through Nov. 11. But “after looking at ways to strengthen the fourth-quarter 2012 OPNAD calendar,” McDonald’s made the decision to move the sandwich promotion to the latter half of December, the memo said.

The McRib was available from October 24 through November 14 last year.

Throughout the years, the sandwich has prompted a sort of cult following and has inspired everything from a Facebook page to a McRib locator.

Advertising Age also said that in place of the McRib this fall, the chain will market two new products: the Cheddar Bacon Onion Angus burger and a chicken sandwich.