BARCELONA, Spain -- One question for the Be Like Mike fans in the audience:
How's it going to play back home, in places like Dubuque and Madison Avenue, when His Highness, the Prince of On-air, Michael Jordan himself, boycotts the Olympic gold-medal ceremony?
Try to picture the scene. The Dream Teamers are up on the platform -- they've got gold medals to complement the gold chains around their necks, they're swaying to that favorite goldie-oldie, "The Star-Spangled Banner," while Magic flashes the golden smile to highlight his moistened eyes.
Then, somebody says, "Where's Mikey?"
Somebody pipes up, maybe Scottie Pippen: "He said he was gonna play golf, and we could mail him the medal. Karl, he asked you to handle it."
Is this scary? When you get the stars and stripes flying and the rockets' red glare sounding, there are some people who might think Jordan is thumbing his nose at mom and apple pie and Gatorade and everything else the U.S. of A. holds sacred.
There are folks who are going to want to pass a constitutional amendment.
If the shoe fits. . . .
Now, I know, you figure the guy would have to have a good reason. And he does. He works for Nike, as you might have heard. And the good folks at the USOC, who would make their medal winners eat a Whopper on the platform if Burger King forked over enough bucks, have sold the official, we-bought-it-you-gotta-wear-it, medal-winning outfit to Nike's rival, Reebok.
The USOC has sold something to everyone. Nike makes the track uniforms. Champion makes the basketball uniforms. Adidas makes the boxing uniforms. Forty sponsors are paying a collective $160 million to the USOC, and each athlete gets about $3,000 worth of luggage, cosmetics, jewelry, chewing gum, diet soda and, for all I know, ear-wax cleaners.
That's not enough for Mike, who makes $3,000 with every breath he takes, not to mention every move he makes.
"I feel very strongly about loyalty to my own company," he has said. I'm waiting for him to say he regrets he has but one life to give to his shoe company.
OK, let's concede that Jordan's allegiance to Nike is extremely moving.
I, myself, have a strong attachment to certain articles of clothing. As an example, I've been wearing the same pair of socks (not Nikes) for three days, although that's actually more a laundry problem than a true test of loyalty.
Jordan is nothing if not loyal.
This is the guy you'd want fighting alongside you -- through thick, through thin and through many other of your basic Olympic weight classifications. He'd never desert you under any circumstances, unless, of course, you were wearing the wrong brand of shoes, in which case he'd bounce you like a congressman's check.
The truth is that Jordan never wanted to be here. He showed up in order to protect his financial interests, sort of the same reason we were in Kuwait. The Dream Team is a basketball gold mine, and Jordan brought his pick and shovel. When did he turn into Gordon Gekko?
Here's a funny, yet true, scene. One afternoon last week, the Dream Team does a combined news conference, at which Jordan utters these words: "This is not a commercial or business situation."
Not two hours later he was doing a Nike-sponsored news conference with Sergei Bubka. It opens with a montage of Nike athletes in Nike wear doing Nike-like things. Then it has Ahmad Rashad, the sportscaster/journalist/Nike employee tossing up softball questions. Example: Is it the shoes?
It's always the shoes. Mars Blackman was right. It started with Lasse Viren, who after winning the 10,000 in Munich in 1972, did a victory lap holding his shoes aloft. No one understood why he did it. Those were the early days.
At some point, I'm not sure when, although it was probably after the start of MTV, sneaker companies took over the world.
Their slogans -- life is short, play hard -- became our slogans.
Their heroes -- Bo knows -- became our heroes.
We are told to just do it and we do.
But will we forever? Jordan is pushing the marketing envelope. When the Bulls won the NBA title, Jordan snubbed the White House by playing golf when his teammates met the president. He has been known to gamble, and a $160,000 check from him was found on the body of a dead bail bondsman. Jordan couldn't make it to the opening ceremonies. Security, I guess. But Magic was there.
And now this?
We all believe in making a stand based on principle, but this is not exactly John Carlos and Tommie Smith doing the black-power salute in Mexico City. These are shoe contracts we're talking about.
How hard a call is this really? Jordan is wearing his Champion basketball jersey. He climbs into a sweatsuit featuring a giant "USA" and a little "Reebok" on the chest, and he gets his medal. That's what will happen in the end. Here's an irony: If it comes to it, Nike will beg him to wear Reebok. They can't want any part of bad publicity.
Mike, if you're still troubled, allow me to propose a three-step resolution to your clotheswear dilemma.
Step one: Obtain a pair of Nike signature, high-top, low-impact, soft-cushioned, all-leather, long-distance walking shoes.
Step two: Put 'em on.
Step three: Take a hike.
Just do it.