Don’t pretend as if you haven’t bought into this belief, we’ve all done it. Now, this isn’t some rant directly about consumer capitalism and how it affects the world around us. This is purely about how a player’s branding, like a signature line of sneakers, overly romanticizes how we remember that particular player.
I think it’s safe to say that Michael Jordan is considered the GOAT by the majority of NBA fans — even the NBA official website agrees. And regardless of if you agree or disagree with that claim, there’s no question that the Jordan brand greatly contributed to this standard. Fans adore the Jumpman logo, they want to be “like Mike” and want to collect his shoes in the process. The Jordan brand has paid an insurmountable amount of dividends to the game of basketball and the NBA, popularizing the sport at the international level. That’s obviously great for the league, but it shouldn’t be included in debates about who’s the greatest player of all time. But that’s the thing, it’s never explicitly stated in these talks, it’s more subtle than that. Jordan represented something that was bigger than basketball and it’s affected all of our minds whether we want to admit to it or not.
Now, I’m not saying that these corporations are brainwashing us to fall in love with these logos and buy their products. But, can you imagine if Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had a signature line of shoes? Even without one, the Laker legend is surely considered at least a top-three player of all time. Having a signature line of “Kareems” to lace up, or even being the face of a brand like Nike would skyrocket his popularity and put him in the ranks of Jordan. But regardless of his numerous record-breaking accolades like being a six-time MVP, 19-time All-Star and all-time leader in points scored and games won, he still isn’t consistently regarded as the absolute best like Jordan is. Plus, the ring argument wouldn’t do much since both Kareem and Jordan have six.
This notion of brands elevating a player’s legacy still applies today, with players like Kyrie Irving having sneakers that are becoming more and more popular. Irving is surely one of the league’s most dynamic and flashy scorers, but he’s way too overhyped and it’s honestly due to his shoes. Because of Jordan, we associate players with sneaker deals to be the cream of the crop and Irving is one of the many players with shoe deals that have tricked a lot of people into thinking he’s better than he actually is. If Irving didn’t have a signature line, let alone be a part of the Nike team, there wouldn’t be as many delusional fans saying that he’s the best point guard in the league.
It’s not as if I don’t think Jordan is qualified to be in the GOAT conversation, or that Irving isn’t a good player. My point is that their respective brands have taken their names to further heights. Most times, their influence to the game and market is included with their skillset on the court. But it shouldn’t be like this. A player’s merit on the basketball court should be completely isolated from their marketing scheme off the court.