ICONS: For Michael Jackson’s 1992 single “Jam”, he played one-on-one with NBA Hall of Famer Michael Jordan, left, who would follow in his footsteps as a world-famous Black superstar.
Michael Jackson never dribbled a ball. Never caught a pass. Never swung a bat. To our knowledge, his only sports connection is performing at sporting events.
But the legendary pop star, who died on June 25, impacted the sports world in his own way, especially in Los Angeles where he made an impact at nearly every major sports venue.
30 years ago, fresh off his “Off The Wall” release in August, Jackson and his brothers closed their Destiny Tour at the Great Western Forum on December 18, 1979.Â Five years later, in December 1984, the family came back to close out the Victory Tour at Dodger Stadium for two sold-out weekends.
It was fitting, then, that the stadium intertwined his music during the Dodgers’ June 26 home game as well as their Friday night fireworks display.
Just to complete the trifecta, Jackson’s Bad Tour came to end at the Sports Arena on November 1988 and January 1989, the last time that the King of Pop would tour in the continental United States.
But no performance in California was perhaps bigger or more important than his halftime show at Super Bowl XXVII in 1993. In front of a worldwide audience at the Rose Bowl, he redefined the spectacle and set the stage for future superstar performances in the coming years.
Jackson raised the bar for entertainment during his legendary career and it’s no surprise that it found its way into the sports world. His rise paralleled the prevalence of athletes adding style to their game during the 1980s – i.e. the Ickey Shuffle, Super Bowl Shuffle, the Showtime era of the NBA and the many innovators of the slam-dunk.
Ironically, it was his video for the 1991 single “Jam” from the album “Dangerous” that combined the two elements and featured basketball’s biggest name in Michael Jordan.
It was two men at the top of their game. Jackson a worldwide phenomenon and Jordan on the verge of being one after winning his first NBA championship the previous summer with the Chicago Bulls.
At one point, midway through the video, both tried to teach each other their moves – Jordan how to dance, Jackson how to shoot a lay-up. Neither did that well, but it was a reminder just how unique both were in impacting the world.
The following year, another video from that album, “Remember the Time,” featured the recently retired Magic Johnson. Despite being named MVP of the All-Star Game, he still had a stigma around him that the HIV virus was a death sentence and many of his supporters weren’t sure how to react to him.
Johnson’s appearance said plenty about Jackson staying loyal to a good friend as well as reminded folks of his universal appeal. Only the biggest star in the world could bring the two most famous basketball players on the planet into his videos and make their interaction seem genuine.
If the 1980s were about Jackson ascending to unparalleled heights in music and entertainment, the early part of the 1990s were about him showing off his crown and inspiring others to take a stab at it.
Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan began to taste that royalty when they were part of the Dream Team at the Barcelona Olympics. It was a crown Jordan would wear the rest of the decade before doing in the 2000s what his former video collaborator did in the 1990s.
Now that crown is passed to the likes of LeBron James and Kobe Bryant. Bryant had a relationship with Jackson that started early in his career – the pop star even offered his ranch as a possible site for his wedding.
“He was extremely inspirational for me because he helped me understand that it’s OK to be different. And when I say different I mean different in the sense of being obsessed with your craft … and working your tail off and being consumed by what you do,” Bryant said to MTV.
So yes, Michael Jackson was not known to be a great athlete. But as a Black superstar who preceded so many in the sports world over the last 25 years, you can clearly see him in their DNA.
And for the many who entered a sold-out sports venue here to see him, he was just as memorable as any sporting event the city has ever seen.