The Making and Meaning of Michael Jordan


By Johnny Smith

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How Michael Jordan’s path to greatness was shaped by race, politics, and the consequences of fame

To become the most revered basketball player in America, it wasn’t enough for Michael Jordan to merely excel on the court. He also had to become something he never intended: a hero.
Reconstructing the defining moment of Jordan’s career—winning his first NBA championship during the 1990-1991 season—sports historian Johnny Smith examines Jordan’s ubiquitous rise in American culture and the burden he carried as a national symbol of racial progress. Jumpman reveals how Jordan maintained a “mystique” that allowed him to seem more likable to Americans who wanted to believe race no longer mattered. In the process of achieving greatness, he remade himself into a paradox: universally known, yet distant and unknowable.
Blending dramatic game action with grand evocations of the social forces sweeping the early nineties, Jumpman demonstrates how the man and the myth together created the legend we remember today. 
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  • “Fascinating… Rich.”
    Wall Street Journal
  • “Intriguing… a swift, fascinating read.” 
    Chicago Tribune
  • "An impressive job of putting Mr. Jordan into historical context."
    The Economist
  • “A smart appraisal of the superstar’s relationship with race. … It’s a fascinating account of how Jordan navigated America’s fraught racial politics during his rise to the top.”
    Publishers Weekly
  • “The book will appeal to fans of Jordan, the Bulls, and the NBA of the 1980s and 1990s, as the author provides interesting backstories about team, league, and corporate figures who surrounded Jordan, particularly his opportunistic agent David Falk, greedy Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf, and paranoid general manager Jerry Krause.”
  • “Recommended.”
  • “Other Michael Jordan books have shown the whats and wheres and whys. Now Jumpman, an essential addition to the canon, explains what it all cost.”
    Wright Thompson, senior writer, ESPN.com
  • “In Jumpman, author Johnny Smith distills the mythology of a sports legend and gives us a story not only about His Airness, but, more broadly, about America.” 
    Gary M. Pomerantz, author of The Last Pass
  • Jumpman is a thought-provoking portrait of the 1990s culture that shaped Michael Jordan into one of the most talked-about athletes the world has ever known. Thanks to Smith for shedding new light on the man, the myth, the legend—the GOAT.”
    Timothy Bella, author of Barkley
  • “Through careful research and rich storytelling, Jumpman does more than just unpack the mystique of Michael Jordan; it paints a lively and unvarnished portrait of the players and personalities who defined that era of professional basketball. By centering questions of race and examining the shifting business of sport, Smith also provides us with a provocative parable about US culture and politics in the late-twentieth century: a time when colorblindness, conservativism, and neoliberal global capitalism came to reshape the American Dream.”
    Theresa Runstedtler, author of Black Ball

On Sale
Nov 7, 2023
Page Count
336 pages
Basic Books

Johnny Smith

About the Author

Johnny Smith is the Julius C. “Bud” Shaw Professor in Sports, Society, and Technology and an Assistant Professor of History at Georgia Tech. He is the co-author of Blood Brothers: The Fatal Friendship Between Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X (with Randy Roberts) and the author of The Sons of Westwood: John Wooden, UCLA, and the Dynasty That Changed College Basketball. Smith lives in Atlanta, Georgia.

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