Michael Jordan makes record gift to national African American museum

By | On August 09, 2016




Basketball legend Michael Jordan made news in July when he announced that he would give $1 million each to the Institute for Community-Police Relations and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Jordan explained the donation as an effort to heal divisions between police and black communities throughout the United States, reversing years of reluctance to speak out publicly on social issues. With Jordan also having fully supported the NBA’s decision to move the All-Star Game from North Carolina in his capacity as Charlotte Hornets owner, it appeared as if the Hall of Famer was warming to the idea of speaking out when necessary.

Jordan’s latest publicly announced donation should add to that impression, although this gift figures to be quite uncontroversial. Museum officials announced Monday that Jordan has given $5 million to the National Museum of African American History and Culture, set to open in Washington, D.C. in late September. From Peggy McGlone for The Washington Post:

The gift, the largest from a sports figure to the 19th Smithsonian museum, pushes private donations to the museum to $278 million. Including federal aid, the museum, which President Obama will open on Sept. 24, has raised more than $548 million.

The Chicago Bulls also gave a jersey that Jordan wore during the 1996 NBA Finals to the museum’s permanent collection. In recognition of the gifts, the museum will name a section of its sports gallery the Michael Jordan Hall.

The inaugural exhibition in that space will feature artifacts associated with 17 “game-changing” athletes, including tennis player Althea Gibson and track-and-field great Jesse Owens. Jordan is among those spotlighted. […]

“I am grateful for the opportunity to support this museum,” Jordan said in a statement. “I also am indebted to the historic contributions of community leaders and athletes such as Jesse Owens, whose talent, commitment and perseverance broke racial barriers and laid the groundwork for the successful careers of so many African Americans in athletics and beyond.”

Museum Founding Director Lonnie Bunch expressed gratitude for Jordan’s contribution. “His gift will enable our visitors to explore how sports were used to break barriers as a way to gain full participation in American society,” Bunch said in a statement.

Again, Jordan’s donation is far less controversial than his fairly conservative statement on police brutality and his support for the NBA’s broadly popular stand against North Carolina’s anti-LGBTQ House Bill 2. The new Smithsonian museum has been anticipated for some time and figures to be a popular tourist attraction this fall and for years to come. Jordan is one of the greatest athletes in the history of the world and a natural fit for this sports gallery.

The donation also continues Jordan’s evolution from global superstar to genuine cultural institution. As a massively popular athlete, pro sports owner, sports apparel businessman, and persistent media subject, Jordan will be in the public eye for some time. This museum gift ensures that his name will be identified with the American experience for even longer.

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