Friday, November 10, 2006

WGN's Contribution to the Jordan Legacy

Everybody knows that Michael Jordan ushered in a new era of transnational consumerism. What this essay posits is...what if he didn't? For reasons best underlined in the highly-recommended Michael Jordan and the New Global Capitalism by Walter Lafeber, a man born from humble North Carolina stock became the centerpiece of marketing symbology and, in the process, transcended race and class in ways few others ever have.

Despite tie-ins with Gatorade, Rayovac, Chevrolet, Ballpark Franks, Coca-Cola, McDonald's, Hanes, Wheaties, and MCI, among others, his association with Nike is usually credited as the symbiotic relationship that vaulted Jordan into an unprecedented level of name recognition. But what if I were to tell you that a local television studio was a more powerful contributor to the legacy of Michael Jordan than any of those?


Keep in mind, WGN-TV of Chicago isn't just any television station. It's one of the biggest in the country, and it has amassed every award in journalism. It was even the first television station with a web site. Besides being the home to Bozo the Clown and a pioneer of the morning show, WGN was the broadcasting partner of the Bulls for the entirety of the '90s.

And WGN was so big that it had a New Orleans affiliate, channel 18 for my childhood. I have no data on this, but I suspect WGN was beamed into many major cities across the U.S. During my formative years, my viewing interests shifted from "Garfield and Friends" to NBA basketball, and I turned to WGN for both of them. I remember falling asleep to countless Bulls routs in my grandma's house during that time. Plus, since we didn't have baseball or basketball teams, I know many New Orleanians my age who made decisions about favorites--Bulls, White Sox, Cubs, or the Atlanta teams on TBS--based on being able to watch all the team's games.

Not as fond a memory. This was the SNES equivalent of Will Perdue.

I guess what I'm saying is that more of our relationship with sports is informed by continuity and convenience than we realize. Perhaps I'd like LeBron just as much as Emeka Okafor if the Cavs had less than forty-two televised games and the Bobcats had more than one or two. By far, I've seen more games featuring Michael Jordan than any other athlete. How much of his legend is built upon that? Was Jordan on TV all the time because he was the [second] best player, or was he the [second] best player because he was on TV all the time?

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