Michael Jordan had just won a gold medal. And with the Olympic Games over, the world's best basketball player was In the locker room looking for an American flag. It wasn't about patriotism. As he prepared to climb to the top of the podium to receive his medal and listen to his country's national anthem, Jordan was thinking about his brand.
The year was 1992 and the setting was Barcelona, Spain. The Dream Team had destroyed all challengers In the men's Olympic basketball tournament and the focus had shifted to Air Jordan- the sneaker, not the man. The Nike-made shoe had become a fashion icon, but now the United States Olympic Committee wanted Michael to stand on the podium wearing a tracksult made by Reebok, the official sponsor of Team USA and Nike's chief rival.
Jordan, and several other members of the Dream Team, weren't having It. Charles Barkley, the team's bombastic power forward and fellow Nike client, captured the anti-Reebok sentiment most succinctly. "I got two million reasons not to wear that shit," said Barkley, as quoted in the new book Dream Team by legendary sportswriter Jack McCallum.
Thus, the search for flags. That was the player-created solution: wear a flag over their shoulder to cover up the Reebok logo. So out came Jordan, Barkley and Magic Johnson, draped In Old Glory. Several other members of the team likely would have followed suit, but as McCallum writes, "only three flags had been procured from spectators."
At the time, almost nobody noticed. The sports reporters following the team knew, but to everyone else, the flag-clad players likely just looked patriotic. "As with most issues related to money," writes McCallum, "nobody cared except the people involved."
But the press soon began to report on the issue, which can be seen as the precursor to the sponsor-related firestorm that played out last month in London. The athlete branding world has exploded since the Dream Team, with U.S. swimmer Michael Phelps and Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt leading the way. According to Forbes, Phelps earned $7 million from sponsors, Including Subway and Under Armour, in the 12 months leading up to the London games while Bolt reportedly topped that lofty sum with just his $9 mlllionper-year Puma deal. …