The stars of tomorrow shined bright at the legendary Jordan Brand Classic in the city where Michael Jordan became an all-time legend.
April 15 marked the return of the Jordan Brand Classic after a two-year hiatus due to COVID-19. It was a homecoming of sorts, as the event returned to Chicago, the city where the brand’s namesake forged a 1-of-1 legacy and left his mark on the world. The games were the icing on the cake for many class of 2022 high schoolers before they head off to their respective universities, embarking on their next chapters in a few weeks.
The atmosphere was that of a family get-together as several past and present Jordan Brand athletes and employees reconnected in person for the first time since the global pandemic.
LSU commit Flau’jae Johnson and Oregon State commit Timea Gardiner took home MVP honors in the girl’s game, while Texas-commit Dillion Mitchell and Arkansas-commit Nick Smith Jr. took home MVPs in the boy’s game. And while the games were a celebration of basketball’s next generation of stars, Jordan Brand also used the platform to shine a light on those achieving excellence in the classroom.
Spreading Their Wings
Thirty-four high school students from across the country received a special surprise at halftime in being named Class of 2026 Wings Scholars. Launched in 2015, the program provides full-ride college scholarships and one-on-one mentorship and internship opportunities with the company.
“What we all know about the game of basketball is it’s not just what you do on the court, but the game beyond the game — the culture of basketball, the life that we live surrounding the game of basketball includes making sure that we promote and actually celebrate those things that are achieved educationally,” Jordan Brand President Craig Williams told Boardroom. “When we think about these Wings Scholars, they’re the best of the best, too.”
He continued: “[The program] is also an acceptance into a family, a brotherhood that will support the full aspect of the person, the maturing and becoming an adult and really doing something in this world that we all believe that they’re very capable of. It’s easy to call it a scholarship program, but it’s so much more than that.”
The brand also announced it would donate $500,000 to each of the Jordan Brand’s Black Community Commitment grantees, the Hidden Genius Project, and YWCA Chicago’s TechGYRLS. The grant is part of the 10-year, $100 million commitment announced by Michael Jordan and Jordan Brand in the summer of 2020 following the murder of George Floyd and the proliferation of the Black Lives Matter movement across the nation.
“We started the Black Community Commitment as a direct response to the situation in Minnesota and believe eradicating systematic racism is possible as long as we all do our part,” Williams said. “We’re focused on very specific areas within the Black community. One is economic empowerment. The second is social justice and the third is education and education reform.
“We believe that if we focus on those three areas, we can be a part of the solution in partnership with so many other organizations, community, and civic leaders to be able to improve the health of the Black community.”
Class was in session for the young athletes during the week as they were surrounded by former and current pros who were more than willing to offer insight. While the obvious questions revolved around what was needed to get to the next level, it seems the universal message given was to not skip steps and enjoy the present.
“My advice is: always stand where your feet are, which is hard because you have dreams, goals, and aspirations to do more than what you’re doing now and you’re always going to think about what’s next,” said former Jordan Brand All-Star and reigning WNBA champion Dana Evans. “Trust in the process — and understand that it is a process and it’s not going to be easy. It’s only going to get harder and it’s only going to become more of a business.”
The Jordan Brand Boost
It’s no secret that the brand takes care of its athletes.
Even well after their athletic careers are through, the care packages don’t stop coming; they only grow. When speaking with any Jordan Brand athlete, there is a childlike quality that illuminates in each of them as they talk about what it means to be handpicked by MJ to represent the brand and continue carrying on his legacy. Shifting that conversation to the brand’s commitment to addressing issues that affect the very communities their stories originate from, there is an even deeper level of pride in wearing the famous Jumpman logo.
“[Jordan is] putting his foot forward and representing everybody,” Bradley Beal said. “We can always talk about it, but to actually do it, that’s what we need. When you think about the impact this brand is having on the next generation as a whole, that’s even more motivation for us as athletes to continue to represent the brand well, continue to perform, and making sure we’re doing right on and off the floor. It’s nothing like being a part of the brand.”
And now, a new crop of athletes is inextricably linked to that brand.
Could the next Bradley Beal or Dana Evans be among them? If it’s written in the stars, they’ll have their chance to show the world.