President Barack Obama awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to 21 recipients for his last edition of this ceremony. It was a star-studded affair with people from several different professions like science, technology, entertainment, sports and more. To put this award into perspective, I’ll use Obama’s own description to help visualize its importance:
"The Presidential Medal of Freedom is not just our nation's highest civilian honor - it's a tribute to the idea that all of us, no matter where we come from, have the opportunity to change this country for the better. From scientists, philanthropists, and public servants to activists, athletes, and artists, these 21 individuals have helped push America forward, inspiring millions of people around the world along the way."
The recipient of this award that had the most impact on me was Michael Jordan. You don’t have to watch old Gatorade commercials to know how badly people wanted “to be like Mike.” If you could interview players who came into the league around the same time Kobe did (probably before AND after that), I’d confidently wager that 95%+ of the players would talk about how MJ inspired them to elevate their game to some degree. They must not have been inspired by his aggressive style of play, which phased out quickly throughout the entire NBA after he retired, but that’s a story for another time.
The Jumpman logo is only one facet of Michael Jordan's image. Personally, when I think of Michael Jordan, I don't think about his shoe brand... I think of early memories of my childhood when I was 6-8 years old watching him dominate everybody who tried to guard him. Although I'm a designer by profession and lifestyle, I still think the human element of a brand is what can have the most impact on a consumer. In Obama's award speech, he mentioned that Michael Jordan is "more than just a logo... more than just an internet meme..." and he continued to describe distinct memories from MJ's career that most sports fans could picture in their head as he spoke. It's kind of sad to think that the most connection the youth has with Michael Jordan is the "crying Jordan meme". I'm glad I grew up in a time when I could experience those championships in the mid-90s and remember how big they felt. My most human interaction with MJ was him inspiring me through the TV set as a kid. That speaks more to me than a meme or shoe brand ever could.
People don’t look up to Michael just because he was really good at basketball. People look up to him for his dedication to his craft, and his determination to be successful. With that being said, he inspired people across professions to have a winning mentality, and that hard work DOES pay off. Those intangible aspects that show up in sports are what make us successful people—our intangibles make us untouchable. The more we nurture our intangible assets as people, the further we will go in life. In President Obama's speech, he said, “there is a reason you call somebody the Michael Jordan of”. Well, Michael Jordan is the Michael Jordan of the intangibles. I mean, let’s be honest, when it comes to being the greatest of all time, he IS untouchable. Or is he? I guess that’s also a story for another time.