Basketball legend Michael Jordan shares his struggle growing up with racism in a North Carolina community where the Ku Klux Klan was heavily active in a new book entitled “Michael Jordan: The Life.” During an interview with Sports Illustrated, author Ronald Lazenby said his research revealed how powerful the Klan was at the time.
“As I started looking at newspapers back in this era when I was putting together Dawson Jordan’s (Michael’s great-grandfather) life, the Klan was like a chamber of commerce. It bought the uniforms for ball teams, it put Bibles in all the schools. It may well have ended up being a chamber of commerce if not for all the violence it was perpetrating, too,” Lazenby said. “A lot of the context just wasn’t possible to put it in a basketball book. A lot of it ended up being cut.”
In the book Lazenby chronicles the basketball legend’s rise from his youth to his status as a sports superstar and how both his upbringing and his race played major roles in his life.
Jordan, who believed he was a racist in his youth because he hated all white people, said he began to understand race relations after watching the critically-acclaimed television miniseries “Roots.” He also opened up about being suspended from school in 1977 after a girl called him the n-word.
“I threw a soda at her,” Jordan said in the book. “I was really rebelling. I considered myself a racist at the time. Basically, I was against all white people.”
Lazenby calls Jordan’s tale a “black power story,” exploring the affects racism had on his family’s economic standing and how that ultimately molded him into the man later praised for his incredible athletic ability.
“As I researched, the whole thing began to take form in my mind that we really don’t think of Michael Jordan that way. He’s been lampooned a lot because he was so great as a player that no matter what he did people were going to be disappointed in him,” Lazenby said. “It’s an economic story. It’s a black power story. It doesn’t come from politics or protests, it comes right off the Coastal Plain of North Carolina and out of the African-American experience.”
In a rare expression of his opinion, the Charlotte Bobcats owner publicly admonished Clippers owner Donald Sterling for racist remarks he made on a leaked audio tape.
“There is no room in the NBA — or anywhere else — for the kind of racism and hatred that Mr. Sterling allegedly expressed,” Jordan said. “I am appalled that this type of ignorance still exists within our country and at the highest levels of our sport. In a league where the majority of players are African-American, we cannot and must not tolerate discrimination at any level.”
He later praised NBA Commissioner Adam Silver for his decision to ban Sterling from the league for life.
“I applaud NBA Commissioner Adam Silver’s swift and decisive response today. He sent a powerful message that there can be zero tolerance for racism and hatred in the NBA,” Jordan said. “I’m confident that the league, our players and our fans will move on from this stronger and more unified.”