Sport as Spectacle of Michael Jordan

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I have created a presentation that critically examines sports as a spectacle. The main focus of my research is on the impact of Michael Jordan’s elite NBA career and how it contributed to increased media speculation. By studying theorists like Debore, Abercrombie & Longhurst, and Tomlinson, I can illustrate how spectacle is perceived in our society that is heavily influenced by media. In today’s age of global technology, we are constantly exposed to instant news, infomercials, electronic town meetings, and “Made for TV Documentaries.” This constant exposure blurs the lines between news and analysis, news and entertainment, and news and fiction.

As the society moves into a captivating and alluring information/entertainment era, the merging of media giants is on the rise, leading to intense competition. The media creates spectacles to attract audiences to the programs and advertisements that support their lucrative businesses (Kellner, D). These spectacles, which deviate from the ordinary daily routine, possess an aesthetic element and are often dramatic in nature. They are closely tied to competitive events such as the Olympics or Oscars.

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Highly public social events, often with ritualistic elements, are used to celebrate society’s most important ideals. These media rituals serve the purpose of validating a society’s core values and beliefs, as stated by Shils. However, media spectacles have become more commercialized and flashy, important spaces for political contests. The analysis of media spectacle as surpassing and assimilating media events is connected to Debord’s concept of the society of the spectacle and theories on media events and spectacles, as suggested by Hepp and Couldry (2009).

Efficient optimization of media/branding can result in a global spectacle, as exemplified by Michael Jordan – widely recognized as the greatest athlete ever. ESPN even crowned him “Athlete of the Century.” Jordan’s combination of athletic prowess, endorsement deals, and self-promotion has propelled him to become a major global phenomenon. Abercrombie and Longhurst (1998) argue that previous research on traditional media primarily focused on the potential negative impacts it may have on specific groups such as children and women. This negative perspective reflected concerns about an impersonal life and manipulation by mass media, reflecting a generally pessimistic view of modern industrial society. In the realm of commercialized/mediated sports, branding is unavoidable. Nike’s iconic symbols like Swoosh, Air Jordan, and Air Max carry distinct meanings associated with their respective brands.

Michael Jordan’s connection with the coveted brand “Air Jordan” generates significance and ideologies. The association portrays Jordan as an extension of the Nike brand, utilizing his secularized image to promote their products. The renowned “Air Jordan” logo signifies value, elevating brands beyond their practical worth. Michael is the ultimate spokesperson, epitomizing the qualities of an archetypal champion: determination, endurance, discipline, and greatness (Elliot, 1999).

Jordan and his agent, David Falk, discovered how to transform Michael into a commodity, a symbol of himself. They defied the typical relationship between celebrities and products, where meaning, emotion, imagery, and product identification flow from the celebrity to the product to the consumer (Gates, 1998). According to Masculinity/Race (McDonald, M), promoters construct representations of Jordan’s athletic physique based on associations with black masculinity, sexuality, and the traditional family structure.

The portrayal of Michael Jordan portrays an attractive representation of black masculinity. Hegemonic masculinity is a valuable tool for analyzing the social implications of the cultural signs of successful masculinity. Connell (1995) created this concept to explain how different forms of masculinity are always interconnected and, therefore, one’s identity is constantly constructed in relation to others. Importantly, Connell links masculinity with power and emphasizes its continual negotiation. Alexander (1994) points out that the public display of Black bodies has been a spectacle in America for centuries, ranging from horrific acts like rapes, beatings, and lynchings to the more positive arenas of basketball and boxing. The images of powerful and “natural” masculinity on televised sports events provide men from various socio-economic backgrounds with a powerful platform to collectively identify with masculinity and an ideology of male physical and cultural superiority (Messner, 1988; Theberge, 1991).

The concept of globalisation has been widely discussed in humanities and social sciences. It refers to the growing interconnection of the world and the impact of worldwide forces on local cultures. Maguire (J) highlights the academic interest in this phenomenon. Robertson (1992) suggests that globalisation can be understood as the integration of different elements into a unified space.

The national state-level globalization of sport is causing sport to undergo three transformations. Firstly, the economic, political, and cultural aspects of globalization are leading to the standardization of sport through western commodified sport forms. Secondly, new social movements are driving socially progressive changes in sport. Thirdly, the acceptance of dominant sport forms at the national level can result in either compliance or resistance. The NBA has been skilled at expanding its global impact.

The league has expanded to seven different countries including Canada (Toronto Vancouver). Exhibition and regular season games have been played in Japan and Mexico. Additionally, teams participate in the international McDonalds open tournament known as the Global NBA (1997). USA today acknowledges Michael Jordan’s status as a pop icon, stating that he is bigger than basketball. The announcement of his retirement in January 1999 resulted in an overwhelming outpouring of praise for his exceptional athletic achievements.

Despite retiring, Michael’s ongoing media presence and widespread adoration confirm him as one of the world’s most popular and recognized sports icons. In China, the Beijing morning post featured a front-page article titled “flying man Jordan is coming back to earth,” while in Bosnia, Jordan’s retirement statement overshadowed news of the war in Kosovo as the lead story on evening television. Michael’s fame extends globally, making him the most well-known American worldwide, and his legacy has sparked media speculation and branding. Throughout the 20th century, sports took on a progressively international flavor, with politics becoming directly linked to economic issues.

The rise of sports speculation has acknowledged the sports industry as a multi-billion pound business. Michael Jordan’s contract with Nike not only boosted his fame, but also allowed Nike to strategically create their athletic footwear, giving consumers a false sense of hope in attaining an NBA career. Globalization has long been a prominent subject in humanities and social sciences. It pertains to the growing interconnection of the world, wherein local cultures are increasingly impacted by global influences, leading to a standardized global culture.

The advancements in communication have allowed for immediate contact, leading to the discussion of global culture. The term globalization suggests that culture is passed down, posing a challenge to the belief that cultural activities and practices are formed within specific urban, regional, and national settings. Additionally, globalization opposes the idea that culture is collectively created by people within their lived experiences.

In this volume, the idea of globalization is seen as incompatible with cultural history. Moreover, professional sports are a major spectacle in media culture, and Jordan is a highly successful and well-managed idol within this culture. Jordan’s fame and popularity can be partly credited to his embodiment of the “Sports Spectacle,” where advanced technology turns sports into a grand media event (Kellner, D 2004). As proof of his status, Jordan has made deals with big companies like Nike, Coca Cola, and McDonalds.

In addition, Jordan has also dabbled in creating his own fragrance and athletic footwear. He even starred in the popular film Space Jam. Given the pervasive commercial culture that intertwines fame, merchandise, and public perception, it is not surprising that Nike and other companies would capitalize on Jordan’s celebrity status to promote their products. Kellner (D) argues that Jordan’s partnership with Nike exemplifies how the media is transforming sports into a spectacle that promotes the values, merchandise, celebrities, and institutions of both the media industry and consumer society.

Michael’s NBA career, personal life, and net worth have been influenced by his entrepreneurial profile. This has had a significant impact on the world of sports, taking it to new heights of speculation. The combination of Michael and the Nike logo has become a well-known symbol in corporate culture, linking athletic excellence to Nike’s wide range of products, which enhances the spectacle of social diversity. Nike is ostensibly a brand that seeks to change perceptions and inadvertently creates unrealistic expectations of achieving an NBA career. Michael Jordan’s exposure and marketing efforts have played a crucial role in this.

The focus in marketing was on showcasing the exciting aspects of basketball that people desired, such as scoring and dunking. Although Michael Jordan also had strong defensive skills and played a well-rounded game, this aspect of his game was not heavily promoted. Nike devised a strategy to boost sales of athletic shoes by creating highlight reels featuring Jordan’s impressive dunks and buzzer-beaters. This emphasis on spectacle and speculation in sports is evident in the fact that Jordan’s defensive abilities were often overlooked, despite being recognized as an all-time great defensive player multiple times (Databasebasketball, 2007).

Due to their constant presence in an eroticized and sensationalized mass-media spectacle, allegations of sexual misconduct involving an NBA superstar are quickly focused on and examined for their implications on celebrity culture, gender dynamics, and racial tensions in American society (Tucker, 2003). Televised sporting events provide a powerful platform for men from all social backgrounds to collectively associate themselves with notions of masculinity and the belief in physical and cultural superiority (Messner, 1988; Theberge, 1991). However, these portrayals carry conflicting interpretations when applied to common perceptions of African American men. Traditionally, traits such as aggression and physical strength have been associated with both African American men and athletic prowess (Sabo & Jansen, 1992). Thus, Michael Jordan’s African American heritage has undeniably contributed to the speculation and spectacle surrounding him.

Michael Jordan is widely regarded as the greatest athlete ever and has been dubbed “Athlete of the Century” by ESPN. He is renowned for his sporting prowess, as well as his exceptional skills in promoting himself and endorsing brands worldwide. This has elevated him to a valuable commodity and one of the most prominent celebrities. Michael Jordan epitomizes the intertwining of globalization, commercialization, sports, entertainment, and media, making him an iconic symbol of athletic brilliance.

Terrell Owens, an NFL player, expressed his admiration for Michael Jordan by incorporating his logo into the design of his indoor basketball court. During a tour of Owens’ home, he was spotted wearing a Jordan jersey and had a book about Jordan displayed on his coffee table. Similarly, skater Tony Hawk proudly showcased Jordan’s jersey in his office. Another athlete who held high regard for Jordan was skateboarder Bob Burnquist, who spoke highly of receiving an award from him at the ESPNs ceremony. Boxer Roy Jones Jr. also showed off a sweat outfit featuring Jordan’s Jumpman logo during his own tour. It is evident that among athletes, Michael Jordan was widely revered and mentioned when discussing role models and inspirations in sports (Hooks, b. 2004). The admiration these athletes have for Jordan can be viewed as part of the ongoing discussion surrounding spectacle in sports.

Debord proposes a different viewpoint – he claims that the commodity is secularized instead of saying that the spectacle is commodified. The analysis of the commodification of spectacles is undoubtedly crucial in studying well-established sports events (e.g., Tomlinson, 1996, 2002). However, it does not explain the emergence of new spectacles, particularly the secularization of events with no historical significance and low levels of achievement. In contrast, Debord’s argument allows us to comprehend the continuous creation of new spectacles by viewing the production of the spectacle as a general condition of social life in late capitalist societies.

Successful spectacles in sports events are not guaranteed. The media plays a significant role in determining their success by portraying them in a favorable light. Especially when it comes to secularisation media and their fascination with Black male sexuality and violence, they tend to exaggerate and approach new media spectacles involving Black masculinity cautiously. The concept of spectacle is strongly linked to the importance of appearances, as exemplified by the process of “celebrification” in popular culture. Michael Jordan, as an African American sports icon and entrepreneur, has achieved tremendous success due to his remarkable skills.

Combing spectacles of race, sports glory, and business successes, Jordan’s involvement in a number of scandals and instances of negative publicity highlights the paradoxes of spectacle culture. It showcases how individuals who thrive on media spectacle are also vulnerable to its brutal omnipotent influence and constant surveillance (Kellner, D). This underscores the fact that although spectacle has brought him joy and triumph through his esteemed NBA career, it also has enduring repercussions due to sports speculation, resulting in negative portrayals propagated by the media.

Debord’s depiction of spectacle as the heightened passiveness resulting from human agency excessively influences the overall analysis. In these instances, the analysis would not suffer any loss if Debord’s reference was omitted and the multifaceted aspects of spectacle were allowed to independently convey their meaning. Referring to Kellner, he has utilized Debord’s ideas in examining the relationship between Michael Jordan and his sponsor Nike. He regards spectacle, as well as images and commodities, as fundamental components of media and consumer society.

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Sport as Spectacle of Michael Jordan. (2017, Mar 09). Retrieved from

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