Jordan brand loses some luster in shoe scuffle

By David Haugh
Updated: October 24, 2009

CHICAGO — No matter what shoes happen to be on Marcus Jordan’s feet, he really has stepped in it now.

The University of Central Florida, where Jordan is a freshman basketball player, has a $1.9 million contract with Adidas that requires all Golden Knight athletes to wear its shoes and apparel. That includes Jordan, son of Nike icon Michael Jordan.

But Marcus Jordan plans to wear shoes from Jordan Brand, a division of Nike created for dear old dad, because Central Florida made a recruiting promise it never should have made that he didn’t have to wear Adidas. High-ranking officials at Adidas later intervened to say Jordan did.

Now, Jordan says he won’t.

Jordan’s sole act of defiance has jeopardized the future of a potential six-year, $3 million extension between Central Florida and Adidas. Understand that $3 million might be the football coach’s salary at places like Florida or Florida State. But at Central Florida it represents about 5 percent of the Central Florida Athletics Association’s budget, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

Before Central Florida plays its exhibition opener Nov. 4, someone close to Marcus needs to put his famous foot down and encourage him to wear the same shoes his teammates are wearing for the good of the program. It would be better if Marcus reached the same conclusion himself before perception further depicts him as a prima dona and we begin to wonder if the shoe fits.

This is a silly debate.

A college scholarship isn’t a right for Marcus Jordan or any other student-athlete. It’s a privilege. That privilege comes with conditions. Stay academically eligible, in shape and out of jail. Go to in-season and offseason workouts. Follow a code of conduct established by the athletic department or team.

If that athletic department says you charter a bus to a game, a player with rich parents can’t opt to take his family’s private jet. If team policy forbids facial hair, you get a shave. And if the university paying for a student-athlete’s room, board, tuition and books stipulates every team member will wear Adidas shoes, that student-athlete wears Adidas shoes.

It doesn’t matter if the kid’s last name is Jordan or Naismith. It doesn’t matter if he has been wearing Nike since his first pair of booties.

Forget Marcus Jordan’s loyalty to Nike or Central Florida’s contract with Adidas. This is about the oldest rule in sports. What the coach says goes for everybody, every time.

Coaches and athletic administrators who allow their programs to stray from that basic principle typically never gain solid footing. How can the son of the man widely considered the best player ever in a team sport defy such a fundamental team concept?

We laughed when Michael Jordan, at his bombastic Hall of Fame induction speech last month, quipped, “There is no ‘I’ in team but there is in win.” When his 18-year-old kid unwittingly puts himself before the team at the potential cost of millions to the school he represents, it’s not so funny.

Understandably, Jordan wants to be true to the family business. But he needs to remember the real family business is basketball, a team sport based on unselfishness and sacrifice.

Nike doesn’t need to intercede. Adidas doesn’t need to give in and let Jordan be the only Central Florida athlete wearing a pair of Nikes. Central Florida doesn’t have to change anything about its policy or the tentative contract extension it hammered out with Adidas.

Marcus Jordan simply has to be told he has a choice. Put on a pair of Adidas shoes like everybody else or walk away from your scholarship in that precious pair of Nikes.

This isn’t freshman hazing or coaching abuse. This doesn’t concern the amount of playing time or the size of a role. We’re talking about a pair of shoes. This is Heir Jordan approaching Err Jordan status for reasons hard for anyone to defend.

“UCF athletics did make Adidas aware of Marcus’ recruitment and was led to believe that there would be a workable solution to a unique situation,” the school’s statement said.

A solution wasn’t worked out. So adjust. It happens all the time in life, so it’s a good lesson for Jordan.

He seems like a good kid getting bad advice. Sure, Central Florida may have promised he could wear Nikes.

Coaches probably also promised Jordan the Golden Knights would win their conference and he could play 35 minutes per game if he worked hard.

But Jordan already should know what any Division I athlete can tell him. Recruiting promises are like NBA scoring records: made to be broken.

How grounded is a college decision based on footwear anyway?