Over the years of this 21st century, it has become abundantly clear that Michael Jordan is not a particularly gregarious fellow. The legendary accomplishments of his NBA career may have covered up (or in some ways, excused) Michael’s less flattering character traits, but the further separated he gets from his playing career, the more he seems like a bitter, unforgiving, pathologically competitive misanthrope. There’s the stories of him in Washington berating former No. 1 draft pick Kwame Brown in his first few years with the Wizards, calling him a “faggot” and making him cry in front of teammates. There’s that video that circulated a few years back of Chamillionaire telling the “Michael Jordan Story,” when the rapper met MJ at a party and got furiously cursed out by him for requesting a picture. And then, of course, there’s the Hall of Fame speech, where Mike took an opportunity usually reserved for paying tribute to those who helped you reach the top and decided instead to deliver a vengeful diatribe against those who had the temerity to stand in his way. To Jordan, there might not even have been much of a difference between the two.
It’s all a rich tapestry of arrogance and disdain. However, nowhere is Michael Jordan’s current disregard for his peers, his followers, and most of all, his fans, more clear than in the series of Hanes commercials he’s filmed over the last half-decade.
Michael Jordan has been filming Hanes ads for a long-ass time, but in the ads of those early days, MJ was still coming off as youthful, smiling, even vaguely enthusiastic about his craft. The ads these days, however, feature a much less benevolent MJ, and one far less willing to indulge the contrivances of his directors and co-stars. In fact, MJ’s disinterest in the spots is so apparent now that the Hanes filmmakers decided to gear the entire Jordan campaign around how little he looks like he wants to be there, with the recurring theme of just about every single ad being some person, either fellow celebrity or outright commoner, trying desperately to capture Michael’s time and/or attention, and Mike wanting absolutely nothing to do with them.
In the first spot from this era of Jordan Hanes commercials, Oscar winner Cuba Gooding, Jr. is getting ready to meet Michael for some unspecified reason. Before he is allowed to do so, though, he is briefed by MJ’s handlers about the many things he is not to do when meeting the six-time champion, including asking him to stick his tongue out or touching his soft Hanes undershirt. Cuba plays it cool, pretending it won’t be a problem, but when he actually spots Jordan from across the room, he screams out “MICHAEL!!” and bolts towards him, embracing him as if magnetically attracted. MJ looks perturbed and slightly creeped out by Cuba’s reaction, but not all that surprised, as if this sort of thing happens to him all the time. Part of the attraction is the impossibly-soft undershirt, no doubt, but it’s still the first example of a Hanes ad portraying Jordan as some kind of galvanizing, almost Messianic-type figure, inspiring religious rapture even in famous actors (well, one-time famous actors), while all he can do in response is to look quizzical and act put out by this reception.
It gets worse. The next series of spots featured a pre-crazy — or at least in-between bouts — Charlie Sheen constantly haranguing Michael Jordan about various Hanes products. One saw Sheen take to stalking MJ on the links, bragging to him from his car about his new Hanes boxer briefs. But MJ refuses to slow down or stop his walking to talk to Sheen, who ends up inadvertently crashing his car trying to keep up with him. In that spot, Jordan at least puts up with Sheen, but in the other one starring the pair, Jordan quickly loses patience with Sheen, driving off on him as he tries to pitch him on Hanes undershirts and Korean barbecue, inadvertently stealing his cell phone in the process. Once again, Jordan is shown as being such a powerfully compelling figure that even a legitimate TV star like Sheen can’t help but try to forcibly insert himself into his life, while MJ remains perpetually unconcerned and increasingly bothered by Sheen’s manic attempts at broaching a friendship.
Most recently, Michael has been seen getting plagued on an airplane by a civilian who wants to impart his Hanes-related wisdom on Jordan — who, for the first time in the series, is unable to flee from the clinger’s grasp (or have it forcibly removed by security). Forced to listen to the obnoxious everyman’s blathering, all Mike can do is sneer “This is gonna be good” or refute the man’s insistence on being Hanes undershirt twins with Mike with a curt “No, we’re not.” (The implication is clear: “You think you’re on my level? Clyde Drexler and John Starks thought they were on my level, too, where the fuck they at now??“) Finally, MJ checks out of the ads altogether, leaving those remaining to discuss him (and the particulars of grammar and Bacon Neck) without him in actual attendance. It seems like just what he’s wanted in this campaign all along.
Of course, one has to wonder about all this — not only why does Michael Jordan seem to feel the obsessive need to constantly play out scenarios of fans demonstrating how much they love him and crave his time and attention (and to show how unmoved and weirded out he is in response), but why does he still do Hanes commercials at all? He can’t possibly need the money, and he clearly doesn’t need or seem to want the kind of added media exposure. The only logical explanation would be that MJ is actually using these ads to send a message to the general public: Leave Me. The Fuck. Alone.
Michael Jordan is absolutely not interested in your autograph requests, your fanboy gushing, your general thoughts and life philosophies. Let him preside over his mansion and basketball empire in undisturbed peace, quiet and solitude, like the NBA’s Daniel Plainview. Leave him be, or he may end up snapping and beating you to death with one of his Finals MVP trophies.