Everybody and their brother seemed to have a suggestion for Michael Jordan last week for how he should spend his newfound free time— take up coaching, become a champion carpooler, run for president. Jeff Ballinger, director of the workers’ rights group Press for Change, has another idea. He would like to see Jordan make good on his pledge to visit factories in Southeast Asia where Michael-endorsed Nike products are manufactured. In a cover story for ESPN The Magazine last April, Jordan said, “I want to go to Southeast Asia to see the Nike plants for myself . . . when basketball is done.”
Ballinger says a Jordan visit to Asia would shine an “astounding” light on Nike workers in Vietnam and Indonesia who have been hit hard by the Asian financial crisis. He estimates that Nike factory wages in Indonesia have dropped to the equivalent of about $1 a day since the currency crash— while the plummeting value of the rupea has translated into about $40 million in labor-cost savings for Nike.
But Vada Manager, Nike’s director of issues, calls that figure “exaggerated.” And he says Nike has invested in the purchase of “bulk commodities such as fish and powdered milk” to help offset the drop in workers’ purchasing power. Nike, says Manager, wants to be sure that its employees are getting adequate protein. He also says that Jordan is planning to visit Nike’s factories in Taiwan, China, and Vietnam soon. Nike canceled a September trip because Jordan was in court fighting a lawsuit. And then, of course, there was the lockout.
Still, Ballinger points out, Jordan has had a few free moments in the seven months since his final, storybook shot. As Ballinger puts it, “He has spent a lot of time on the golf course.”
Meanwhile, now that the King is gone, long live the King Wannabes. The NBA, the media, and fans are wondering who’ll wear the crown of b-ball golden child, and many in power are anxious for it to be a clean-cut all-American type like Grant Hill or Tim Duncan. But in the late ’90s we live in hip hop America, and edge will be an essential component of b-ball royalty now. Though off-court Jordan could be bland as a box of Wheaties, he did make some essential contributions to street culture— from his Air Jordans to baggy shorts to bald head. Plus, Jordan played with an irrepressible arrogance that put the b-boy in b-ball.
So while Kobe may be cute, Jockbeat predicts the crown will move to one of Wilt Chamberlain’s old haunts— L.A. or Philly. Shaquille O’Neal and Allen Iverson are not only the most physically imposing big and little men in hoops— each combines strength, quickness, and toughness— but they both have the charisma, love of the game, and street cred the league fears but needs. Just as it took Jordan years to overcome the Magic-Bird-Isiah axis, Shaq has paid his playoff dues and is ready to represent the West. And look for the Sixers to make the playoffs in this chaotic 50-game season with Iverson perhaps challenging Jordan’s 63 points one inspired afternoon in May.
Truly Xtreme Games
If you, like Jockbeat, count yourself among the ranks of avid SportsCenturions, you couldn’t avoid ESPN’s avalanche of hype for the Winter X-Games, now jetting their annual spray of testosterone and adrenaline across the perilous ridges of Crested Butte, CO. This year’s ad twist: cartoon-campy spots with a pomo-Orientalist look, featuring a blue-haired bodi-con snow bunny, capering 3-Drendered monkeys, and a wacky polar bear mascot with a curious resemblance to beleaguered Japanese PM Keizo Obuchi. The ads, apparently inspired by the peculiar variety shows that dominate Japan’s prime-time lineup, showcase such all-American X-Game worthies as Shaun Palmer and Kurtis Crapo.
Ironically, not a single Japanese athlete was invited to compete at the ’99 games; lest you see this as a sign that Nihonjin lack an appetite for self-destruction, we direct your attention to another staple of Japanese TV— “torture shows” like TransAmerica Ultra Quiz and Endurance. In the former, contestants who answer questions incorrectly are set on fire or thrown from the roof of a moving car. In the latter, pain is the game. Contestants perform feats of dubious sanity such as: standing on their heads in the desert while magnifying glasses focus beams of intense heat on their nipples; dangling from a greased pole above a pit of alligators; and being swung from ropes across a fire field of cannons, as sharpshooters attempt to nail them in the ass. Now that’s an event we’d like to see ESPN add to next year’s X-Games.
This just in: Jockbeat has learned that if the mayor’s proposal for a domed football stadium on the West Side falls through, the city has prepared plans to build a giant beach in Central Park to attract a major beach volleyball franchise. Administration sources assert the $500 million sand dune can be built with materials dredged from the Gowanus Canal, and will be constructed on the current, unused site of the Great Lawn.
contributors: Sarah Smith, Nelson George, Jeff Yang, Neil Demause
consiglieri: Andrew Hsiao, Hillary Rosner
editor: Miles D. Seligman